Book reviews: Books explore political issues
March 30, 2017
'The Road to Character,' by David Brooks
What makes a life worth living? In "The Road to Character," David Brooks pits accomplishment against virtue, brutally reminding us that, while we spend most of our lives and energy pursuing achievement — resume building — it's what people say about us — our eulogy — that we care about.
Brooks chronicles a 50-year shift in cultural values from humility and selflessness, obedience and respect for others, to the "Big Me," the sense that all I need to do to do right is to listen my inner voice, to find my inner strength. He quite convincingly argues that, while there is much good accomplishment from the nurturing of boundless ambition, it has been at the cost of finding true joy.
Brooks illustrates the values that build character in a series of biographical vignettes. His selection of subjects is classical Brooks — eclectic, illuminating. In each of these stories, he finds a willingness to recognize, call out and struggle with weakness and a repeated sequence of failure, learning and victory that leads to a stronger being and, ultimately, a life of purpose and meaning.
In his closing chapters, Brooks collects the lessons from these biographies into a set of behaviors that can build character. He urges a return to "vocation," work that has inherent meaning and value, without the need for external validation or accumulation of accomplishment. Together, these are his "road to character."
'A Colony in a Nation' by Chris Hayes
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In 1968, accepting his party's nomination for president, Richard Nixon said this of black Americans: "They don't want to be a colony in a nation." Yet this, argues Chris Hayes, is exactly what has happened.
He observes there are two criminal justice systems in America. One, the nation's, is what you'd expect in a democracy, where you call the police for protection and the police are respectful, polite and maybe even forgiving. The other, the colony's, is what you'd expect in an occupied land, where the police demand order and obedience, suspect — indeed, expect — law breaking, and are feared.
Hayes, the MSNBC TV host, documents the sharply contrasting experience of the law in the colony and the nation: the differences in incarceration, penalties and legal representation. He searches for the roots of these differences, beginning with America's reaction to the protests and riots that grew out of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war and likening today's colony to a re-creation of the Jim Crow south, a perpetuation of racial inequality enabled by a politically convenient response to maintain order.
Finally, Hayes warns that white fear, which has motivated criminalization experienced in the colony, is the most explosive force in American politics, and that we need face that and stop giving in to politicians who pander to it.
These books are available at Bud Werner Memorial Library and Off the Beaten Path.
Ron Krall is owner of Off the Beaten Path.
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