A review of *Useful Delusions: The Power and Paradox of the Self-Deceiving Brain* by Hidden Brain’s Shankar Vedantam

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One facet of a book that separates it from other avenues of media, at least for myself, is a book’s surprising ability to make you thankful for the author’s work even if you disagree with it. It seems to happen to me particularly often. Malcolm Gladwell’s ideas are about a 50/50 proposition whether I’ll agree with him or not, but I will always read his books and I’ll eventually catch up on all his podcasts too. I don’t agree with Ben Sasse on several points, but his books (The Vanishing American Adult and Them) are ones I recommend widely.

You…


A review of Amelia Pang’s brand new *Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods*

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“There is a darker side to China’s rags-to-riches transformation — and our own pleasure in the cheap products that we consume daily. During our endless search for the newest trends and the lowest prices, we become complicit in the forced labor industry.” — Amelia Pang

Amelia Pang’s new book, Made in China, has an almost-irresistible hook: A middle-class American woman, opening Halloween decorations, finds a folded piece of paper. It is a note. More accurately, an SOS letter. A man from the other side of the world was being forced to work in a labor camp making cheap decorative tombstones…


A review of Roy Richard Grinker’s new book, *Nobody’s Normal: How Culture Created the Stigma of Mental Illness*

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Who do you know that suffers from mental illness?

You can probably think of someone. Possibly many people. But if I had asked you the same question 20 years ago, you probably would have struggled to give an answer. Does that mean that mental illness is more common? No. It means people are more likely to seek help for mental illness and/or are more likely to talk about it. This is because the stigma of mental illness is being reduced in American society pretty quickly. Or, I should say, some mental illnesses. Some still bear the full brunt of stigma…


A review of Jessica Donati’s *Eagle Down: The Last Special Forces Fighting the Forever War*

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How old were you when the war in Afghanistan started in October 2001?

I was one month from turning 12 years old. Almost all Americans currently in their teens have not lived in a world where the United States does not have troops in Afghanistan. The Obama administration removed all troops except for Special Forces in an “advisory and training” role, but we know by now that such wording is only politics. As of four days ago, according to the Department of Defense, the United States has 2,500 service members in Afghanistan. That is the lowest number of troops there…


A review of James Oakes’s *The Crooked Path to Abolition: Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery Constitution*

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There are two ledges that amateur and professional historians alike can veer toward in their analysis of Abraham Lincoln. The first is a hagiography of Lincoln that unabashedly celebrates him as “the Great Emancipator” at the forefront of the abolition movement who saw black and white equality exactly the same as many of us do today. This is not true. But the counter-narrative, that Lincoln was a white supremacist who used abolition of slavery only as a political tool and was only antislavery when it behooved him, is also not as supported as it may seem. James Oakes takes aim…


The best books to fill out your reading list for 2021

This year, I was able to read 80 books (five more than last year), so 2020’s list of favorite books has an even greater sample size from which to choose. (One of these days I will be able to reach the elusive “100”.) As usual, this is a collection of the best books I read in 2020, not the best of those published in 2020. That qualification is especially important this time, as half of my top ten were not published this year.

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A review of Raleigh Sadler’s heart-wrenching book, *Vulnerable: Rethinking Human Trafficking*

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Why am I sitting here, on Christmas Day, writing a book review about human trafficking? I bought Raleigh Sadler’s Vulnerable: Rethinking Human Trafficking a little less than a year ago, and it’s been on my list but kept being pushed just far enough out of reach. Then the New York Times posted a story (for some reason as an op-ed even though there was tons of reporting) entitled “The Children of Pornhub”. I encourage you to read it in full when you have time to devote it, not scrolling and half-reading like I’m sure you do with book reviews. But…


A review of Phillip Lopate’s new compilation of historical essays, *The Glorious American Essay: One Hundred Essays from Colonial Times to the Present*

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Has reading an essay ever changed your life?

It has mine. “Common Sense” helped me fall further in love with reading history. “A Case for Reparations”, while I don’t fully agree with the conclusions, sent me scrambling for more information on race in America (a quest that continues to this day). Depending on your definition of “essay”, these two might not even count. But that is part of what Phillip Lopate seeks to reconcile in his new book, The Glorious American Essay: One Hundred Essays from Colonial Times to the Present. There is no agreed-upon definition of what an essay…


A review of Roland Ennos’s new history, *The Age of Wood: Our Most Useful Material and the Construction of Civilization*

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I’m a sucker for books marketed as “the complete history of (some noun that is completely overlooked in history but probably very important)”, as are many. Mark Kurlansky has made a career out of it with Salt, Milk!, and Cod. I was excited for but ultimately disappointed with Timothy Winegard’s The Mosquito. But I loved Judith Flanders’ history of alphabetical order, A Place for Everything (I even interviewed her about it), and I am looking forward to reading Flanders’ 2017 history of Christmas as well. …


A review of Seb Falk’s *The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science*

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The Dark Ages. The Middle Ages. Medieval times. Those are the descriptors historians use for the time from the fall of the Western Roman Empire in roughly A.D. 476 (the Eastern Roman Empire stuck around for almost 1000 years more) to the Renaissance in the 1300s and 1400s. All of those terms have taken on a derogatory meaning, as the time period has been seen as devoid of the science, art, culture, and “civilization” (whatever that truly means) that characterized the Greeks and especially the Roman Empire.

This characterization is heavily countered in Seb Falk’s new book, The Light Ages…

Jason Park

Book-reviewer, AP World History and AP Psychology Teacher. MAT Secondary Social Studies, University of Arkansas. Arlington, TX.

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