Book Review: The Union of Their Dreams by Miriam Pawel


Author: Miriam Pawel
Title: The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chávez’s Farm Worker Movement
Publication Info: Bloomsbury Press (2009)
ISBN: 1596914602

Summary/Review:

I’ve never known much about Cesar Chávez and the United Farm Worker’s union so I was pleased to receive a free copy of this book from the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.  The book is not about Chávez directly although his presence hovers over the events covered in this book for both good and ill.  Instead Pawel focuses on the stories of nine individuals who dedicated their lives to the farm worker movement – field hands, organizers, lawyers and a ministers. Their overlapping stories offer a glimpse into the movement’s rise and fall from the 1960s to the 1980s.

At first it’s an inspiring story of boycotts, strikes and union elections where the union prevails against the growers (and their Teamster thugs) as well as scoring legislative victories.  Chávez becomes a national hero for his inspiration, non-violent leadership.  Unfortunately like many organizations the UFW is torn apart by internal conflicts and Chávez only exacerbates the problems.    Pawel details how these close friend and colleagues of Chávez see him becoming increasingly paranoid, micromanaging and megalomaniac, purging the union of people on specious grounds and making life miserable for those who remain.

This book is ultimately heartbreaking but there are glimpses of hope nevertheless.  It’s inspiring that despite all the difficulties these nine people dedicated themselves to an ideal and a cause.  While shattering the myth of Chávez the hero, this book still illustrates the good that can be done by ordinary people working for social justice.

Recommended books: The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day, We Can’t Eat Prestige: The Women Who Organized Harvard by John Hoerr, and Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by David J. Garrow
Rating: ***

Book Review: Interpreter of Maladiesby Jhumpa Lahiri


Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Title: Interpreter of Maladies
Publication Info: Mariner Books (1999)
ISBN: 039592720X

Previously read: The Namesake

Summary/Review:

Lahiri’s collection of short stories demonstrates that she is one fine writer.  The stories – mainly set in the Cambridge/Boston area or in India – cover some common themes such as the meetings of peoples of different cultures, strained relationships, and children with a growing understanding of the adult world.  The last theme is best demonstrated in “When Mr. Pirzada Came To Dine” told through a child’s perspective of her parents’ Pakistani dinner guest and how that leads to her coming to terms with sociopolitical realities.  The first story “A Temporary Matter” ends on an act of cruelty that is a real kick in the gut.  Indeed, many of these stories demonstrate the downside of human nature and so the reader shouldn’t read this for a pick-me-up.  Yet there is unexpected joy as well as in the last story “The Third and Final Continent” about an Indian immigrant and the elderly woman who rents him a room which has a surprisingly upbeat ending.

Recommended books: The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami, The Deportees: and Other Stories by Roddy Doyle, and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Rating: ****

Book Review: The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 by Paul Krugman


Author: Paul Krugman
Title: The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008
Publication Info: Books On Tape (2009), Audio CD
ISBN: 1415965080

Previously read: The Great Unraveling

Summary/Review:

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman writes a brief overview of what he calls “depression economics” that arose from the perfect storm of events that brought down the global economy in 2008.  Much of the book is a revised form of an earlier book about fiscal crises in Latin America and Asia in the 1980s and 1990s.  These earlier crises should have been a clue to what could go wrong with the bubble economy of the 2000s but most of the people who should have known better thought that depression economics were a thing of the past.  Krugman does a good job of explaining what went wrong and offers solutions to prevent a repeat: regulate anything that works like a bank as a bank and allow governments to offer stimulus to the economy when needed.  These solutions seem obvious of course but Krugman also explains how these reforms work and what happens when they’re missing.  In short this is a good overview of the fiscal crisis for the non-economist that is written in an engaging, sometimes even humorous, manner.

Recommended books: Free Lunch David Cay Johnston, What’s the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank and The Way We Never Were by Stephanie Coontz
Rating: ***