by Ryan Tibbens
I love to read and learn, but I don't have much free time.
Optimistically, I have a 45-minute one-way commute. I have a lovely wife and two children under the age of three. I teach high school English. I run a small private tutoring operation. I keep a large garden, a cat, and two dogs.
My reading life consists of "How to Keep [something] Alive" articles, current events, students' essays, children's books, and street signs. When I'm lucky, I find time to read a Facebook argument or a handful of Twitter posts. When I'm super lucky, I get to read an honest exposition as I'm falling asleep in bed.
In the summer of 2017, I subscribed to Audible in hopes of stimulating my brain and improving the quality of my 90-115 minutes in the car each day. It worked. Below, you will find a running list of my Audible listens. They are listed (mostly) in the order I finished them. Short reviews are provided; some works deserve their own short articles, which when ready, will be linked.
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103) Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond -- ................................ -- In Progress
102) The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Goodwin Woodson -- ............................... -- B-
101) Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie -- .............................. -- B
100) Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes by Nathan H. Lents -- ...................... -- A
99) Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World by Joel Salatin -- .................... -- A+
98) Animal Liberation by Peter Singer -- ...................... -- A
97) Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Watatsuki Houston -- .................. -- B-
96) No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald -- .......................... -- A
95) A Mind of Her Own by Paula McClain -- Historical fiction about Marie Curie.... -- B
94) Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover -- ................................. -- A+
93) Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell -- ........................ -- A
92) Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom by Kerry McDonald -- ............................. -- A
91) Napoleon Hill's Outwitting the Devil: The Secret to Freedom and Success by Napoleon Hill (and Sharon Lechter) -- ........................... -- C+
90) I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara -- I'm not much of a 'true crime' fan, so I didn't expect much from this book. However, it was highly recommended by several friends and fellow teachers; it was also written by the wife of comedian, actor, and Broad Run High School graduate Patton Oswalt shortly before her death. I gave it a shot, and I'm glad I did. My only real complaint about the book is that it is incomplete -- it presents a portions of the book, plus draft material, plus excerpts from other articles and essays, plus some material written or heavily edited by McNamara's friends and research team -- all because she died before it was complete. If we excuse this unavoidable flaw, the book is excellent. The writing is crisp and engaging, and the story itself is unbelievable. McNamara dives deep into one of the worst, and least known, serial killers and rapists in American history; she tells it all in a way that is both suspenseful and informative. I only wish she could have lived, both for her family and to see her obsession come to fruition. Even if you don't normally love true crime books, this is worth your time and attention. -- A-
89) Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum -- If you have ever attended or worked in a school (or anywhere else) with diverse racial and ethnic demographics, then the title should grab your attention. It grabbed mine. While the book does contain some excellent research and perspectives, it rarely offers anything truly new or unique. This book might function well as assigned reading in a college course, but adults who choose this text will likely already be familiar with many of the concepts and issues addressed. Personally, I felt like the book was at least twice as long as it should have been, and the new prologue goes on forever without making any clear connections to the purpose of the rest of the book (aside from general discussion of race in society). If you haven't read much about race and racism through anthropological, sociological, and psychological lenses, then this will be an informative, if somewhat boring, read. If you already have some reading and knowledge on the subject, then this might not be fulfilling. -- C+
88) Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (Book 1 of original 007 series) -- I'm a long-time lover of Bond films, but I had never read any of the books, so when 'Casino Royale' went on sale, I jumped at the chance. Just like the movie, the gambling scenes go on (perhaps) a bit too long, but the writing is good, surprisingly good. Fleming's attention to detail both build suspense and create realism. Despite loving the movies, I really didn't expect much from the book and was pleasantly surprised. I now hope to read more of the series in the future. -- A
87) Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote -- Full confession: the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's is my all-time favorite "chick flick," though its use of a male protagonist might technically remove it from that genre. I've read that Capote disliked the film and thought Audrey Hepburn was the wrong actress for the part, which seems insane to anyone who has seen the film. However, now that I've read the book, I understand his concerns. The book is a bit more realistic than the film, less flighty, less whimsical, and even a bit dark at times. Holly Golightly is still charming and spontaneous, but there seems to be more vanity, more selfishness and shallow behavior; well, maybe not more, but the negatives are certainly more obvious and bothersome in the book. Despite the differences, I liked the book quite a bit, and its short length and character-driven story make it a good pleasure-read at the beach or on a rainy day. I might still like the movie better, but the book is excellent as well, for slightly different reasons. -- A-
86) Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling -- ........................... -- A+
85) Hacking Darwin by Jamie Metzl -- ........................... -- A
84) The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien -- ........................... -- A+
83) Lying by Sam Harris -- ........................... -- B
82) How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About... by Michael Pollan -- ........................... -- A
81) I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong -- ........................... -- A+
80) Free Will by Sam Harris -- ........................... -- A-
79) Candide by Voltaire -- ........................... -- A-
78) The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump (listened several months ago and accidentally missed it lower on this list) -- ........................... -- B+
77) Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama -- ........................... -- A
76) Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance -- ........................... -- A+
75) The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell -- ........................... -- B+
74) Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts by Annie Duke -- ........................... -- B+
73) The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession by Dana Goldstein -- ........................... -- A-
72) Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell -- ........................... -- A
71) Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut -- ........................... -- A+
70) The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin -- ........................... -- C-
69) Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl -- ........................... -- A
68) On the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau -- ........................... -- A
67) Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom -- ........................... -- A
66) Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo -- ........................... -- C
65) Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon -- ........................... -- A
64) The Greatest: Muhammad Ali by Walter Dean Myers -- ........................... -- B+
63) The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde -- ........................... -- A+
62) Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger -- ........................... -- A
61) On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder -- ........................... -- B+
60) Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll -- ........................... -- B+
59) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl -- ........................... -- A-
58) Anthem by Ayn Rand -- ........................... -- C+
57) The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway -- ........................... -- A+
56) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle -- ........................... -- B+
55) The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch That Changed My Life by Rick Ankiel -- ........................... -- B+
54) The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan -- ........................... -- A+
53) The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness by Michelle Alexander -- ........................... -- A+
52) Bill Bryson's Appliance of Science by Bill Bryson -- ........................... -- B+
51) The Circle by Dave Eggers -- ........................... -- A-
50) You Need a Budget: The Proven System for Breaking... by Jesse Mecham -- ........................... -- B
49) What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard P. Feynman & Ralph Leighton -- ........................... -- C+
48) Gilgamesh: A New English Version by Stephen Mitchell -- ........................... -- C+
47) Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin -- ........................... -- A
46) The Art of War by Sun Tzu -- ........................... -- C+
45) TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson -- ........................... -- A
44) A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore -- ........................... -- C+
43) Apocrypha Now by Mark Russell & Shannon Wheeler -- ........................... -- A-
42) The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan -- ........................... -- A
41) The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels -- ........................... -- B
40) The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad -- ........................... -- B+
39) King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild -- ........................... -- A
38) God Is Disappointed in You by Mark Russell & Shannon Wheeler -- ........................... -- A+
37) Widow Basquiat: A Memoir by Jennifer Clement -- ........................... -- A
36) Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari -- ........................... -- A-
35) The Stranger by Albert Camus -- ........................... -- A-
34) The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert -- ........................... -- A
33) The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli -- ........................... -- C
32) The World According to Mr. Rogers by Fred Rogers -- ........................... -- A-
31) Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari -- ........................... -- A+
30) Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, translated by Sam Torode -- ........................... -- B+
29) The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston -- ........................... -- B-
28) Money Management Skills by The Great Courses, Michael Finke -- ........................... -- B+
27) In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan -- ........................... -- A+
26) Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, translated by Stephen Mitchell -- ........................... -- A
25) When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi -- ........................... -- A-
24) Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande -- ........................... -- A
23) The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch -- ........................... -- A-
22) The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff -- ........................... -- A
21) I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition) by Malala Yousafzai & Patricia McCormick -- ........................... -- A
20) What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel -- ........................... -- B-
19) Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary by Walter Dean Myers -- ........................... -- B+
18) Brave New World by Aldous Huxley -- ........................... -- B+
17) Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin -- ........................... -- B
16) Meditations by Marcus Aurelius -- ........................... -- A+
15) On Power by Robert A. Caro -- ........................... -- C+
14) Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk -- ........................... -- B-
13) 1984 by George Orwell -- ........................... -- A
12) One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey -- ................... -- A
11) Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? by Michael J. Sandel -- .............. -- A+
10) The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Human Cooperation by Matt Ridley -- This book serves as some kind of extension or re-telling of the development of morality within human evolutionary psychology as told by Robert Wright in The Moral Animal (below). As a fair disclosure, I loved The Moral Animal, and I've read several other books by Matt Ridley. The Moral Animal is more literary somehow, perhaps due to the use of Charles Darwin's letters and life as a case study of human morality. Still, some reviewers were not as positive about Wright's work as me. Enter Matt Ridley. What this book lacks in literary stylings, it makes up for in thorough research and more clear explanations of the modes of evolutionary psychology. If you have a sincere interest in the subject, I recommend reading both books. If you prefer the literary, go with Wright. If you prefer a more direct expository approach, go with Ridley. I recommend this book -- A.
9) All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque -- This is one of the greatest war novels (and anti-war novels) of all time. Taking the perspective of a young German soldier in World War I, Remarque shows war for what it is -- sad and scary and confusing and terrible. Hemingway and a slew of other authors changed how the world thought of war after WWI, but perhaps none did it better than Remarque. Hemingway said, "They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. But in modern war there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason." Remarque breathes life into that same concept. Teachers might pair this with Johnny Got His Gun, Born On The Fourth Of July, The Things They Carried, War, or Tribe (and a dozen others). Highly recommend -- A+.
8) Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk -- Probably the crowning achievement of Palahniuk's ever-expanding catalog, Fight Club offers immense insight into a spiritual erosion that has become so common in modern society that we often don't even notice it. Consumer culture, discomfort with masculinity, and finding meaning all share the stage. The movie is fantastic, one of my all-time favorites, and this book deserves the same respect (plus, with some dialogue changes and a different ending). I highly recommend -- A+.
7) Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut -- Vonnegut's best-known work, this modern classic is equal parts science fiction and anti-war novel. The writing is crisp and direct, the morals are generally good, and the innovative plot structure deserves analysis and respect. That being said, this was my third or fourth time reading the book, and for some reason, I think I like it less with each additional reading. So it goes. This book is great, and if you've never read it, you should. Strongly recommended -- A-.
6) The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley -- While it may not be the most entertaining read, this book is an argument for progress and a defense of it. An antidote to the usual doom-and-gloom that dominates academia and major media news outlets, Ridley's central thesis is that quality of life is, and has been, improving for nearly everyone on the planet for decades. One of his many sub-claims is that our progress is largely the result of capitalism, which will make the book more controversial to some, particularly political liberals and progressives. However, Ridley is very much in agreement with mainstream history, most economists, and accepted scientific theory, so while we might ~feel~ like we disagree with him, it is difficult to do so while thinking clearly. Even if you prefer the doom-and-gloom caution so common elsewhere, The Rational Optimist is a book deserving of your attention to provide balance and critical thought in otherwise dogmatically pessimistic conversations. I highly recommend. A-.
5) The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac -- A couple of my friends from high school LOVE this book and have recommended it to me since we were around 16. I read On The Road at least four times between high school and college, so I can't fully explain my hesitance about The Dharma Bums. The book does start slowly with far too much (fictional) name dropping and introduction, but once the characters make it to the mountains, the story and message become more clear. It's not On The Road, but it is quite good and in some ways might be more thoughtful. I recommend it -- B.
4) The Martian by Andy Weir -- I'm not a huge science fiction fan, but this is a very good book and a GREAT audiobook. Something about the writing style and the reader's style came together to bring this book to life. The movie is quite good too, and if I was reading the book (as opposed to listening), I'd say they're even in value; however, the audiobook does something special. I strongly, strongly recommend the audiobook to anyone who likes science, science fiction, adventure, or character-driven dramas. Excellent. A+.
3) The Evolution of God by Robert Wright -- One part history, one part theology, one part psycho-analytic criticism of traditional western religious texts, this book offers a crash course in religious teachings, Middle Eastern and Roman history, and cultural evolution. When I cross-checked some passages with my favorite priest, he agreed with ~nearly~ everything and even suggested that most of it was 'old news,' at least to him and those with similar educations. I doubt most Jews, Christians, and Muslims would see it that way. If you have an interest in religion, history, and/or cultural evolution, I highly recommend. If not, then I still think it's worth checking out, but maybe borrow it from the library and wade in cautiously. A-.
2) The Road by Cormac McCarthy -- This harrowing tale of a father and son surviving in a post-apocalyptic world is both beautiful and terrifying. I'm glad I waited to read it until after having children; my inability to stop thinking about my son during particular passages made the book one of my more intense literary experiences. And if you have seen the movie, promptly forget it and check out the book -- much, much better. A modern classic, I highly recommend it -- A+.
1) The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology by Robert Wright -- An intriguing look at human evolutionary psychology and the evolution of morality, this book is both well written and well researched; it also provides an intimate, basic biography of Charles Darwin. For those with curiosity about, but limited background knowledge of, evolutionary psychology, this is a great place to begin. Highly recommended -- A.
By Ryan Tibbens
(Order information available at the bottom.)
The novel, which follows a white tweenager and black man as they run away from abuse and oppression down the Mississippi River, is not only anti-slavery, but anti-racist as well, an uncommon position in the 1880s. Many modern Americans fail to realize that even most abolitionists held intensely racist beliefs. However, Mark Twain was not among them. After being asked about black students entering prestigious universities in 1885, Twain had this to say: "I do not believe I would very cheerfully help a white student who would ask a benevolence of a stranger, but I do not feel so about the other color. We have ground the manhood out of them, & the shame is ours, not theirs; & we should pay for it." Twain went on to pay the full tuition and costs at Yale Law School for Warner T. McGuinn, one of the first black students at the school and later a lawyer praised by Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and others. The point here is that the novel is not a promotion of slavery or racism; instead, it is biting satire of all the worst parts of American culture (in Twain's eyes) -- racism, slavery, abusive parents, alcoholism, blind nationalism, religious revival movements, bawdy entertainment, con men, and stupid, ignorant, gullible, and mean people of all kinds. Unfortunately, people have always misunderstood the book. After its initial publication, it was criticized as "indecent" and "shameful" because of its humor, its use of a child narrator, its use of dialect, and even its anti-racist message. By the second half of the 20th century, people began to object to the book's inclusion of the dreaded "n-word." However, even that criticism was not always genuine or fair. Many people who objected to the book's message of racial equality and inclusion used the racial slur as an excuse to remove the novel from schools. More recently, people offer sincere objections to the book's racial slurs. One professor, Dr. Alan Gribben, recently revised and republished The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn through a company called NewSouth Publishing; in his text, he replaces every instance of the word "nigger" with the word "slave." Gribben claims to have made the change to reduce teachers' and students' discomfort with the text and class discussions; however, it renders the book colorblind. Gribben's edits put modern readers' focus on slavery, which had been illegal for nearly two decades when Twain published the novel, rather than race, which is the real core of the book. Consider that Twain writes and publishes this book in 1884 but sets it in the 1830s or 1840s. Why? Because a story with a race-related moral would be better understood by his audience if put in the context of slavery. When we replace racial terms with slavery terms, we confuse the issues. We forget that the vast majority of slaves in world history have not been black and that the vast majority of black people who have ever lived have not been slaves. Surely Twain opposed slavery, but the slavery issue was mostly settled at the time of publication. This is a book about (and against) racism. People's objections to Twain's use of the n-word are fine on the surface, except that the book is among the most anti-racist books of its era, perhaps any era; the language is more symptomatic of time period and realism than intent. That is not to say that readers' concerns, objections, and feelings aren't legitimate -- they are. Revered history professor Sterling Stuckey says, "In my judgment, 'Huck Finn' is one of the most devastating attacks on racism ever written.'' As intelligent, culturally-literate Americans, we must deal with a tough question -- should we ever be asked to experience discomfort on our journey to enlightenment?
Enlightenment is at the heart of this great novel. In perhaps the plot's most important moment, young Huck grapples with society's ethics, his own morals, racism, slavery, and his loyalty to his friend Jim, a runaway slave. When faced with a decision between leaving Jim to be re-enslaved far from home, returning him to his 'rightful' owner and be re-enslaved, or defying all his school, church, and social learning by working to free Jim from his new captivity and continue to help him find freedom -- a decision between doing the 'right thing' according to society or the 'right thing' according to his heart -- Huck declares, "All right then, I'll go to hell." Huck may not have achieved true enlightenment just yet, but he makes a choice that he never regrets and that shapes his future acts -- he will always do what is right, regardless of what society says.
Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a leading candidate for the title of 'Great American Novel.' It incorporates important elements of our national ethos: rugged individualism, naturalism and realism, complicated history, racism, slavery, coming of age, and -- above all -- the ongoing struggle between personal morals and social ethics. Because of the book's language, fewer and fewer teachers use this book, often deciding that "it just isn't worth the trouble anymore," but growth is rarely easy, progress requires a struggle, and art thrives on challenges. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, though not perfect, is special, is purposeful, is thoughtful, is moral, decent, and a must-read for any person desiring better understandings of morality, racism, or American culture.
This book deserves an A+ for its literary innovations, cultural significance, and educational offerings.
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ORDER INFO: The first book link above (McDougal Littell Literary Connections) is recommended because it the copy that Mr. Tibbens has and that the school offers. Class discussions and lectures will include book references and page numbers from that edition; it is available for purchase via the link AND for free borrowing from the school book room. The Bantam (2nd above) and Dover (3rd above) editions are of similar cost and quality, though the Bantam version has slightly larger margins for annotating. The Norton (4th above) is a nicer binding and includes analytical and informative support texts, but it does cost a bit more. The 5th book is a reprinting of the original text, including illustrations and other extras from early printings. Any original, unabridged edition of the book is acceptable for class use. Ebooks and audiobooks are widely available (often for free/cheap), but they make annotations extremely difficult, so they are not recommended unless paired with a traditional hard copy. Contact the teacher with questions.
Just for fun...
Introduction and Review by Ryan Tibbens
(Order information available at the bottom of the review.)
Simply put, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is one of the most important books written in American history. Widely regarded as the best American slave narrative, it was written by Frederick Douglass at the age of 27, just a few years after gaining his freedom. Like most slave narratives, it includes testimonials and introductions by prominent white abolitionists to lend ethos to the author, but upon reading, modern audiences can scarcely imagine that Douglass needed a boost in credibility. His narrative structure is sound, imagery is vivid, diction is impeccable. His appeals to human decency and justice are cries we can't unhear. An early review in William Lloyd Garrison's newspaper proclaimed, “It will leave a mark upon this age which the busy finger of time will deepen at every touch. It will generate a public sentiment in this nation, in the presence of which our pro-slavery laws and constitutions shall be like chaff in the presence of fire. It contains the spark which will kindle up the smouldering [sic] embers of freedom in a million souls, and light up our whole continent with the flames of liberty."
Frequently cited as an inspiration by civil rights champions and politicians, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass also functions well in modern English and social studies classrooms. Its historical significance and status as a trusted primary source are impressive, but Douglass's style and advanced, sometimes intimidating, vocabulary provide students opportunities to study rhetoric, syntax, diction, style, and more. Douglass's writings have been cited on the Advanced Placement English Language & Composition exam no fewer than three times and offer an opportunity to become more comfortable with older non-fiction, which is traditionally the most challenging multiple choice reading passage on that exam.
For use in my AP English Language & Composition classes, students focus on (and annotate) the author's rhetoric and style, and they give special attention to content related to education and personal freedom. Douglass's exquisite writing makes the first task easy; his candor eases the second as well. In Chapter VI, Douglass writes that his master once said if he was taught to read, "'there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.' These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, that I most hated. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both."
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is fully deserving of a 5/5 rating. And weighing in at less than 100 pages, even the busiest student can make time to read and annotate it well in just a couple weeks.
For book order purposes, I recommend the Dover Thrift edition because it is accurate, complete, and cheap. The print and margins are somewhat small, so annotations can sometimes be tricky for students who write too much or have large handwriting, but the monetary trade-off usually makes it worthwhile. The other $5-7 versions available on Amazon.com are of varying quality, many having printing errors, binding problems, small margins, or missing prefaces/introductions. Therefore, I personally recommend the cheaper Dover Thrift (which I use) or the Penguin Classic edition, which includes other Douglass writings and speeches. The full text is widely available online, free of charge, but few students have ever submitted quality annotations in an Ebook or from a .pdf. Proceed with caution. Still, it is an option. The book is also available at most major book stores. If you have questions about obtaining a copy, let us know.
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Introduction and Review by Ryan Tibbens
Michael J. Sandel's Justice: What Is the Right Thing to Do? is both a book and a college course. In fact, Sandel's class is the most popular course ever offered at Harvard University. You can watch large portions of the class free of charge at JusticeHarvard.org and on YouTube. A few years ago, a student told me about the class and its videos; she said that parts of his lectures and discussions reminded her of my class and that I might enjoy it. I did. I watched all 15+ hours of video and immediately began thinking about how to implement it in class. Of course, I couldn't show that much video, particularly in a high school English class, so when I found out that Sandel had written a book based upon the course, I was thrilled.
An introduction to moral and political philosophy, Justice: What Is the Right Thing to Do? now acts as a cornerstone in my AP English Language and Composition classes because it forces deep thinking, critical questioning, and rhetorical discussions. Without my prompting, students will reference the book all year long in a variety of discussions and essays; they will use it to question their classmates and support arguments in their own essays. Interestingly, several universities now use questions drawn from this book for supplemental admissions essays, in admissions interviews, and in scholarship interviews (including the University of Virginia's Jefferson Scholars program).
Any person interested in moral or political philosophy, or interested in better understanding what they think is right and (more importantly) WHY they think that, should consider this a must read. It earns 5/5 stars and a prominent place in my course syllabus.
ORDER HERE: Justice: What Is the Right Thing to Do?
Other books by Michael J. Sandel...
Compiled by Ryan Tibbens
On this Juneteenth, 2019, the United States House of Representatives held hearings on reparations for slavery. This is not a new idea, but new voices made themselves heard and breathed life into an otherwise stale debate. This article serves as a brief, basic introduction to the new debate; it includes two video clips from today's congressional testimonies, an excerpt from a best-selling modern philosophy book, and a video of the book's author teaching class. Additionally, this article includes a new feature: reader surveys. There is one survey in the beginning; use it to indicate your beliefs now. The other survey is at the end of the article; use it to indicate your beliefs after considering the compiles sources.
Before launching into the sources, remember this: you can't reasonably claim pride in your community's past achievements if you won't also accept shame for the past failures.
Source #1) An argument in favor of reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Source #2) An argument against reparations by Coleman Hughes.
Source #3a) An excerpt from Michael J. Sandel's Justice, in which he discusses loyalty, community, and individuality. (Full text available here.)
~~ WHAT DO WE OWE ONE ANOTHER? / DILEMMAS OF LOYALTY ~~
It’s never easy to say, “I’m sorry.” But saying so in public, on behalf of one’s nation, can be especially difficult. Recent decades have brought a spate of anguished arguments over public apologies for historic injustices.
-- Apologies and Reparations --
Much of the fraught politics of apology involves historic wrongs committed during World War II. Germany has paid the equivalent of billions of dollars in reparations for the Holocaust, in the form of payments to individual survivors and to the state of Israel. Over the years, German political leaders have offered statements of apology, accepting responsibility for the Nazi past in varying degrees. In a speech to the Bundestag in 1951 , German chancellor Konrad Adenauer claimed that “the overwhelming majority of the German people abominated the crimes committed against the Jews and did not participate in them.” But he acknowledged that “unspeakable crimes have been committed in the name of the German people, calling for moral and material indemnity.” In 2000, German president Johannes Rau apologized for the Holocaust in a speech to the Israeli Knesset, asking “forgiveness for what Germans have done.”
Japan has been more reluctant to apologize for its wartime atrocities. During the 1930s and ’40s, tens of thousands of Korean and other Asian women and girls were forced into brothels and abused as sex slaves by Japanese soldiers. Since the 1990s, Japan has faced growing international pressure for a formal apology and restitution to the so-called “comfort women.” In the 1990s, a private fund offered payments to the victims, and Japanese leaders made limited apologies. But as recently as 2007, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe insisted that the Japanese military was not responsible for coercing the women into sexual slavery. The U.S. Congress responded by passing a resolution urging the Japanese government to formally acknowledge and apologize for its military’s role in enslaving the comfort women.
Other apology controversies involve historic injustices to indigenous peoples. In Australia, debate has raged in recent years over the government’s obligation to the aboriginal people. From the 1910s to the early 1970s, aboriginal children of mixed race were forcibly separated from their mothers and placed in white foster homes or settlement camps. (In most of these cases, the mothers were aborigines and the fathers white.) The policy sought to assimilate the children to white society and speed the disappearance of aboriginal culture. The government-sanctioned kidnappings are portrayed in Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), a movie that tells the story of three young girls who, in 1931, escape from a settlement camp and set out on a 1 ,200-mile journey to return to their mothers.
In 1997, an Australian human rights commission documented the cruelties inflicted on the “stolen generation” of aborigines, and recommended an annual day of national apology. John Howard, the prime minister at the time, opposed an official apology. The apology question became a contentious issue in Australian politics. In 2008, newly elected prime minister Kevin Rudd issued an official apology to the aboriginal people. Although he did not offer individual compensation, he promised measures to overcome the social and economic disadvantages suffered by Australia’s indigenous population.
In the United States, debates over public apologies and reparations have also gained prominence in recent decades. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law an official apology to Japanese Americans for their confinement in internment camps on the West Coast during World War II. In addition to an apology, the legislation provided compensation of $20,000 to each survivor of the camps, and funds to promote Japanese American culture and history. In 1993, Congress apologized for a more distant historic wrong — the overthrow, a century earlier, of the independent kingdom of Hawaii.
Perhaps the biggest looming apology question in the United States involves the legacy of slavery. The Civil War promise of “forty acres and a mule” for freed slaves never came to be. In the 1990s, the movement for black reparations gained new attention. Every year since 1989, Congressman John Conyers has proposed legislation to create a commission to study reparations for African Americans. although the reparations idea has won support from many African American organizations and civil rights groups, it has not caught on with the general public. Polls show that while a majority of African Americans favor reparations, only 4 percent of whites do.
Although the reparations movement may have stalled, recent years have brought a wave of official apologies. In 2007, Virginia, which had been the largest slaveholding state, became the first to apologize for slavery. A number of other states, including Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Florida, followed. And in 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution apologizing to African Americans for slavery and for the Jim Crow era of racial segregation that extended into the mid-twentieth century.
Should nations apologize for historic wrongs? To answer this question, we need to think through some hard questions about collective responsibility and the claims of community.
The main justifications for public apologies are to honor the memory of those who have suffered injustice at the hands (or in the name) of the political community, to recognize the persisting effects of injustice on victims and their descendants, and to atone for the wrongs committed by those who inflicted the injustice or failed to prevent it. As public gestures, official apologies can help bind up the wounds of the past and provide a basis for moral and political reconciliation. Reparations and other forms of
financial restitution can be justified on similar grounds, as tangible expressions of apology and atonement. They can also help alleviate the effects of the injustice on the victims or their heirs.
Whether these considerations are strong enough to justify an apology depends on the circumstances. In some cases, attempts to bring about public apologies or reparations may do more harm than good by inflaming old animosities, hardening historic enmities, entrenching a sense of victimhood, or generating resentment. Opponents of public apologies often voice worries such as these. Whether, all things considered, an act of apology or restitution is more likely to heal or damage a political community is a complex matter of political judgment. The answer will vary from case to case.
-- Should We Atone for the Sins of our Predecessors? --
But I would like to focus on another argument often raised by opponents of apologies for historic injustices — a principled argument that does not depend on the contingencies of the situation. This is the argument that people in the present generation should not — in fact, cannot — apologize for wrongs committed by previous generations. To apologize for an injustice is, after all, to take some responsibility for it. You can’t apologize for something you didn’t do. So, how can you apologize for something that was done before you were born?
John Howard, the Australian prime minister, gave this reason for rejecting an official apology to the aborigines: “I do not believe that the current generation of Australians should formally apologize and accept responsibility for the deeds of an earlier generation.”
A similar argument was made in the U.S. debate over reparations for slavery. Henry Hyde, a Republican congressman, criticized the idea of reparations on these grounds: “I never owned a slave. I never oppressed anybody. I don’t know that I should have to pay for someone who did [own slaves] generations before I was born.” Walter E. Williams, an African American economist who opposes reparations, voiced a similar view: “If the government got the money from the tooth fairy or Santa Claus, that’d be great. But the government has to take the money from citizens, and there are no citizens alive today who were responsible for slavery.”
Taxing today’s citizens to pay reparations for a past wrong may seem to raise a special problem. But the same issue arises in debates over apologies that involve no financial compensation.
With apologies, it’s the thought that counts. The thought at stake is the acknowledgment of responsibility. Anyone can deplore an injustice. But only someone who is somehow implicated in the injustice can apologize for it. Critics of apologies correctly grasp the moral stakes. And they reject the
idea that the current generation can be morally responsible for the sins of their forebears.
When the New Jersey state legislature debated the apology question in 2008, a Republican assemblyman asked, “Who living today is guilty of slaveholding and thus capable of apologizing for the offense?” The obvious answer, he thought, was no one: “Today’s residents of New Jersey, even those
who can trace their ancestry back to . . . slaveholders, bear no collective guilt or responsibility for unjust events in which they personally played no role.”
As the U.S. House of Representatives prepared to vote an apology for slavery and segregation, a Republican critic of the measure compared it to apologizing for deeds carried out by your “great-great-great-grandfather.”
-- Moral Individualism --
The principled objection to official apologies is not easy to dismiss. It rests on the notion that we are responsible only for what we ourselves do, not for the actions of other people, or for events beyond our control. We are not answerable for the sins of our parents or our grandparents or, for that matter, our compatriots.
But this puts the matter negatively. The principled objection to official apologies carries weight because it draws on a powerful and attractive moral idea. We might call it the idea of “moral individualism.” The doctrine of moral individualism does not assume that people are selfish. It is rather a
claim about what it means to be free. For the moral individualist, to be free is to be subject only to obligations I voluntarily incur; whatever I owe others, I owe by virtue of some act of consent — a choice or a promise or an agreement I have made, be it tacit or explicit.
The notion that my responsibilities are limited to the ones I take upon myself is a liberating one. It assumes that we are, as moral agents, free and independent selves, unbound by prior moral ties, capable of choosing our ends for ourselves. Not custom or tradition or inherited status, but the free
choice of each individual is the source of the only moral obligations that constrain us.
You can see how this vision of freedom leaves little room for collective responsibility, or for a duty to bear the moral burden of historic injustices perpetrated by our predecessors. If I promised my grandfather to pay his debts or apologize for his sins, that would be one thing. My duty to carry out the recompense would be an obligation founded on consent, not an obligation arising from a collective identity extending across generations. Absent some such promise, the moral individualist can make no sense of a responsibility to atone for the sins of my predecessors. The sins, after all, were theirs, not mine.
If the moral individualist vision of freedom is right, then the critics of official apologies have a point; we bear no moral burden for the wrongs of our predecessors. But far more than apologies and collective responsibility are at stake. The individualist view of freedom figures in many of the theories of justice most familiar in contemporary politics. If that conception of freedom is flawed, as I believe it is, then we need to rethink some of the fundamental features of our public life.
As we have seen, the notions of consent and free choice loom large, not only in contemporary politics, but also in modern theories of justice. Let’s look back and see how various notions of choice and consent have come to inform our present-day assumptions.
An early version of the choosing self comes to us from John Locke. He argued that legitimate government must be based on consent. Why? Because we are free and independent beings, not subject to paternal authority or the divine right of kings. Since we are “by nature, all free, equal and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent.”
[Sandel continues by making connections to the philosophies of Immanuel Kant and John Rawls.]
Source 3b) A recording of Michael Sandel teaching his "Justice" course at Harvard, this segment addresses many of the topics and texts mentioned above in 'Source 3a.' This is the most popular course in the history of Harvard University and is fully available online for free at JusticeHarvard.org as well as his Harvard webpage and YouTube. Both the book Justice and the class are strongly recommended.
"Achieve an Informed and Common Sense Opinion on the United States' Dealings in the Middle East: An Anthology" -- Compiled by Ryan Tibbens
On this Flag Day, we should all consider what our flag stands for, not just here in the United States, but around the world too. We should better understand how actions taken under that flag and paid for by American citizens affect peace, prosperity, and geopolitics around the world. This 'article' is more of an anthology, a compilation of reliable sources and literary connections, designed to inform discussions of American involvement in the Middle East.
Before you ever suggest raising taxes for public services or cutting social safety nets to save money, you should better understand how our federal government effectively gives away our prosperity, often to countries that support our enemies. You should also try to understand why these decisions make sense to those who wield power in our government and major industries.
Let's start with a trailer for a GREAT documentary. (Go watch the whole movie -- it is currently available on Amazon Prime.)
Why We Fight, a fantastic documentary (2006) by Eugene Jarecki, addresses the threat of the military-industrial-congressional complex using strong research, purposeful rhetoric, and an impressive set of interviews with ranking government and private sector leaders. Jarecki's discussion (argument?) builds on a foundation created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his Farewell Address.
Next, let's take a look at geopolitical dynamics in the Middle East, with extra attention paid to the two biggest players -- Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Vox has several well-researched introductory videos on YouTube that create solid foundations for further study or (the beginnings of) informed discourse. They have also compiled a few maps (some animated) to further clarify the historical and cultural complexities of Middle Eastern politics, for example:
Perhaps the most urgent item in this brief compilation is the video of Senator Rand Paul speaking before the Senate on June 13, 2019 (yesterday) about the government's plans to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar. With a determination and repetition that are both rhetorically effective and somewhat annoying by the end, Paul points out the complete lack of common sense in our approach to Middle Eastern foreign policy and arms sales. Our president and legislators seem to believe that the best path to peace in the Middle East is sending in more armaments, weapons that often end up in our enemies' hands to be used against our own young soldiers. Using the context from the previous two videos, think carefully about Senator Rand Paul's words.
Remember, we are talking about millions, billions, sometimes trillions of dollars -- and that is a lot more money than most of us can even imagine. As President Eisenhower pointed out, we could build scores of schools, hospitals, and highways with that money; we could uplift the American people. President George Washington gave similar warnings in his farewell address -- that a standing army will lead to wars and that foreign entanglements will ruin our republic. We continue to ignore good advice from two strong presidents, two of our nation's great military leaders, instead wasting tax-payers' dollars on misguided military interventions and arms sales.
How can we make sense of all this nonsense? George Orwell explained these processes clearly in his book within a book, "THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF OLIGARCHICAL COLLECTIVISM by Emmanuel Goldstein," contained in Part 2, Chapter 9 of 1984. In this section of the book, Winston, the protagonist and active opposition to the Party and Big Brother, finally gets to read from "the book." In this block of text, Orwell demonstrates his social and political clairvoyance by describing the world in which we live today.
In this writer's opinion, this is the most important source in this anthology; unfortunately, it also requires the most reading. However, if you've made it this far, it is my sincere hope that you will finish the job and read a few extra pages -- your outlook on American politics and "defense" spending will never be the same. The link above contains the full text (as well as the entire novel); you can also read here on Read.Think.Write.Speak. by clicking on the "Read More" link just below the Amazon ads.
The next time a politician claims that "we can't afford" domestic programs or that "we need to raise taxes to fund public services" or that "cutting defense spending endangers all Americans as well as democracy around the world" or any such nonsense, remember what George Orwell, Rand Paul, George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, and objective history have to say about those lies.
Because no one else