The end of the year prompts reflection of 2012 highlights, and here at New America we can take pride in a number of important books written by staff and fellows – books that help us better understand the times we live in. In this season of giving, we not only revisit some of our year’s titles below, but also ask their authors to pay tribute to their own favorite (non-New America) 2012 read.
Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom (January 2012), by Rebecca MacKinnon.
MacKinnon explores a question that has only become more relevant and contentious in the past year: How should the Internet be governed to ensure the rights and civil liberties of its users?
Favorite 2012 Title: Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive, by Bruce Schneier.
Why It’s a Must-Read: “In the Internet age we are struggling as a society to figure out how to achieve acceptable levels of security while also preserving civil liberties. Schneier cuts through the emotion and hype on all sides and offers a clear-eyed framework for thinking about - and living with - a set of truly hard problems that we will never completely solve.”
The Escape Artists (February 2012), by Noam Scheiber.
President Obama inherited both a massive economic crisis when he took office in January, 2009 – and a team of seasoned advisers to guide him through the collapse. Scheiber offers an insider account of the major players – and strategies – that shaped the response to the financial fallout – and questions whether it’s working.
Favorite 2012 Title: The Signal and the Noise, by Nate Silver. Why it’s a Must-Read: “This book is less entertaining than Freakonomics or Moneyball, two of the books Silver’s publisher had in mind when it signed him up. But it’s also a much more important book. Silver branches out from his roots as a sports and politics stat-geek and wades into some big policy issues, like climate change and epidemiology. He’s produced a model for how to write about policy rigorously for a popular audience.”
The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family (March 2012), by Liza Mundy.
Soon, more women than men will serve as the ‘breadwinners’, or financial supporters of their households. Mundy investigates the impact of this huge cultural shift, and explains why it’s a great thing for both sexes.
Favorite 2012 Title: The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity, by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy.
Why it’s a Must-Read: “This book has the virtue of a central premise that is both original and inevitable: Of course ex-presidents and sitting presidents formed relationships, and of course an account of these friendships (and enmities) as they formed and unfolded makes for fascinating history. But nobody had thought to write it, up to now. In addition to the brisk and well-written narrative, what I enjoyed most were the revealing and unexpected details: Bill Clinton calling Richard Nixon to find out if his (Clinton's) daily schedule was normal for a president, because otherwise how could one know; Jimmy Carter's infuriating but kind of hilarious habit of straying from script when his successors sent him on overseas missions; Harry Truman finding a way to redeem poor Herbert Hoover. It's full of insight and glimpses into the sometimes improbable bonds between men--and so far, of course, they have all been men--who differ in every conceivable way, but share the fact of having been elected to do a job that, one senses, can only be truly understood by the few other people in the world who have held it.”
Screen Time: How Electronic Media – From Baby Videos to Educational Software – Affects Your Young Child (March 2012), by Lisa Guernsey.
Guernsey, the mother of two young daughters, wondered whether she could trust those virtuous TV shows, computer software and video games that vowed to help her kids learn. So she interviewed tons of experts. Here, she reports on whether digital media accelerates – or interrupts – the development of tots.
Favorite 2012 Title: Giving Our Children a Fighting Chance, by Susan B. Neuman and Donna C. Celano.
Why it’s a Must-Read: “This book starts as a tale of two neighborhoods in Philadelphia –Chestnut Hill, a place of concentrated affluence, and the Badlands, where poverty is everywhere. For more than 10 years, the authors and their research teams investigate how these two communities help children grow into literate, educated citizens – starting from the prevalence of printed signs, to the abundance (or dearth) of good children’s books in local preschools, to the way children and their parents use the two local libraries. Most interesting to me: how families in both neighborhoods take advantage of the computer technology in those libraries. Neuman and Celano discover that simply buying hardware and software for libraries will not be enough to bridge parents’ gaps in understanding how to use digital media with their children to help them succeed. No doubt the book is wonky – the subtitle, Poverty, Literacy, and the Development of Information Capital, is a dead giveaway – but the writing is eloquent, even electrifying, and presses an urgent question: How can we stop the downward spiral of less and less learning that has become the norm for disadvantaged children across the United States?”
The Crisis of Zionism (March 2012), by Peter Beinart. With every new West Bank settlement the Israeli government announces, it's imperiling the Jewish nation's democratic foundation -- and the future of Zionism. Beinart condemns the American Jewish establishment for failing to challenge the dangerous Israeli status quo, and advises both Americans and Israelis on how they must move forward to preserve the dream of a democratic Jewish nation. Favorite 2012 Title: Hologram for the King, by David Eggers.Why it's a Must-Read: "Nothing better sums up the feeling of being an American in a globalized but increasingly post-American world."
Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States (April 2012), by Michael Lind.
How did the U.S. economy become one of the strongest and most diverse in the world? Lind tells the tale by weaving together the stories of inventors like Thomas Edison, entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and politicians like FDR – and detailing the varying impact of emerging technologies on American policy and society.
Favorite 2012 Title: Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy by William Janeway.
Why it’s a Must-Read: “[It] is one of the most important books of the year, if not of the decade. In the long run, technological innovation is central to economic growth, and few know more about the theory and practice of technological innovation than Janeway, in his unique double role as an academic economist and a successful private investor. In Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy, Janeway explains how public investment has been essential to nurturing new technologies in the past—and will continue to be necessary in the future.”
Manhunt: The 10-Year Search for Bin Laden – from 9/11 to Abbottabad (May 2012), by Peter Bergen.
Before heading to theaters to see Hollywood’s version of Osama bin Laden’s capture by SEAL Team 6, “Zero Dark Thirty,” read Bergen’s account: He interviewed the Al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan in 1996, and was the only journalist to get access to his Abbottabad compound. Bergen traces the intelligence trail that led to the terrorist’s capture, and delivers an inside look at how President Obama made the final raid decision.
Favorite 2013 Title (Bergen got his hands on this book early, but it won’t be released to the general public until January 2, 2013): The Insurgents, by Fred Kaplan. Why it’s a Must-Read:“It’s the fascinating biography of an idea, the idea that counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) might help the United States reverse the course of the disastrous war in Iraq. The book is deeply reported, yet doesn't cheerlead for the US military. The Insurgents documents how COIN went from heresy to dogma in the US military and how it transformed the manner in which the Pentagon fought the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization (June 2012), by Parag Khanna and Ayesha Khanna. How are cities and countries around the world exploiting powerful new technology to get a competitive edge? And why might developing a greater technology quotient, or TQ, be more important to the future of human civilization than boosting IQs? Khanna’s book offers advice for adapting to a future where technology will colonize areas of our lives that we can’t even anticipate.
Favorite 2012 Title: How to Create a Mind, by Ray Kurzweil.
Why it’s a Must-Read: “Kurzweil has established himself over the decades as a thinker and a doer. An inventor, scientist, advocate and visionary, his books paint a picture of the near future and his work accelerates our path to it. Upon publication of his new book, he announced he is joining Google as Chief Engineer.”
Practicing Balance: How Congregations Can Promote Harmony in Work and Life (September 2012), by David Gray.
Though it may feel like divine intervention is necessary to achieve work-life balance in your life, all you may need is Gray’s new book. He calls on religious leaders to help their congregants live a more balanced life, and explores how an off-balance existence can stunt spiritual development.
Favorite 2012 Title: Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, by Gregg Vanourek and Bob Vanourek.
Why it’s a Must-Read: “It’s an insightful study of what makes organizations successful and how to apply lessons from a number of sectors and countries to today’s challenges. The authors are two of the most thoughtful people I have had the good fortune to meet. I have long thought Gregg Vanourek to among the best writers I know and one of the most insightful thinkers. Bob Vanourek brings a broad experience, leadership record and one of the deepest commitments to ethics as a driver of success of anyone in the field. For anyone interested in greater success in their organization, I highly recommend this book. “