By Beth Kanter, Chief Advocacy and Strategic Communications Officer
The stack on my nightstand is getting so high that it’s about to topple over, but that’s because there have been so many great books this year that have been must-reads. As you get ready to cozy up by a fire this holiday season (or in my case, digging my toes in the sand in front of the ocean — I can’t wait!), here are some reading (and listening and watching) suggestions that helped inform our thinking this year (and others that we just love and think you will too).
1) Delinquent: Inside America’s Debt Machine by Elena Botella
Omidyar Network’s own Elena Botella takes readers on a journey from Capital One’s headquarters to street corners in Detroit, kitchen tables in Sacramento, and other places where debt affects people’s everyday lives. Uncovering the true costs of consumer credit to American families in addition to the benefits, Elena reveals the underhanded and often predatory ways that banks induce American borrowers into debt they can’t pay back.
2) A Brief History of Equality by Thomas Piketty (Translated by Steven Rendall)
The world’s leading economist of inequality presents a short but sweeping and surprisingly optimistic history of human progress toward equality despite crises, disasters, and backsliding. A perfect introduction to the ideas developed in his monumental earlier books.
Kim Kelly (one of Omidyar Network’s first Writers in Residence beginning in 2023!) excavates the history of the labor movement and shows how the rights the American worker has today — the forty-hour workweek, workplace-safety standards, restrictions on child labor, protection from harassment and discrimination on the job — were earned with literal blood, sweat, and tears.
4) The Middle Out: The Rise of Progressive Economics and a Return to Shared Prosperity by Michael Tomasky
As we look to define a new economic paradigm to replace neoliberalism, journalist Michael Tomasky argues in favor of middle-out economics, the belief that prosperity comes from a thriving middle class, and therefore government plays a role in supporting families and communities. This version of capitalism — more just, more equal, and in which prosperity is shared — could be the American future.
5) Buyer Aware by Marta L. Tellado
Consumer Reports’ president and CEO shows you the steps you can take to protect yourself from predatory business practices, and how to exert your inherent power as a consumer to spur politicians and businesses to clean up their act. Only then can we ensure that we have an economy that is fair, safe, and transparent for all, and puts consumers first.
Podcast hosts Felicia Wong (Roosevelt Institute) and Michael Tomasky (The New Republic) introduce you to the people and ideas moving America forward in uncertain times. How to Save a Country connects dots across economics, law, and politics — and shows that there IS a way forward for our democracy. (Sponsored by Omidyar Network)
A partnership between Economic Hardship Reporting Project (an Omidyar Network Partner) and To the Best of Our Knowledge at Wisconsin Public Radio
The three-part series hosted by broadcaster Ray Suarez centers on Americans who have lived on the edge. They share their sometimes-startling economic experiences and also insight into our society as a whole. Each episode asks: What would result if we put more care into how we dealt with housing or mental health crises or our workplaces? Going for Broke explores these questions, moving from powerful personal accounts to visionary solutions.
We agree with Erwin Chemerinsky’s, dean of University of California’s Berkeley School of Law, description, “A magnificent book that shows us that the tension between the right to privacy and freedom of expression is as old as this country yet as recent as social media and doorbell cameras. At a time when we all must be concerned about what it all means for each of us, Amy Gajda has written the definitive book about privacy and the right to know.”
2) Special Characters: My Adventures with Tech’s Titans and Misfits by Laurie Segall
A coming-of-age narrative chronicling an era transformed, is an account of the humans behind the companies that have shaped our modern society. Segal gives us a backstage pass to the tech bubble that reimagined the ethos of our social, political, and cultural experience.
Susan Linn — one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of Big Tech and big business on children — provides a deep and eye-opening dive into exactly how new technologies enable huge conglomerates to transform young children into lifelong consumers by infiltrating their lives and influencing their values, relationships and learning. She persuasively argues that our digitized-commercialized culture is damaging for kids and families as well as society at large and maps out what we must do to change course.
4) Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages by Carlota Perez
While this book was published twenty years ago, it was highly influential in our vision to build a responsible tech future.
What is the internet doing to us? New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose discovers what happens when our lives move online in this riveting podcast.
Another New York Times podcast with Kevin Roose, along with and Casey Newton. The two explore stories from the bleeding edge of tech and ask, “What’s real? What’s hype?”
What does it mean to be a digital native? TikTok, Boom. dissects the platform along myriad cross-sections — algorithmic, socio-political, economic, and cultural — to explore the impact of the history-making app. Balancing a genuine interest in the community and its innovative mechanics with a healthy skepticism, delve into the security issues, global political challenges, and racial biases behind the platform. (Omidyar Network supported a screening of the movie).
Oliver gave viewers a brief history lesson about how the U.S. government has historically moved to break up harmful business monopolies. The episode included the work of several of Omidyar Network’s partners.
Building Cultures of Belonging
1) The Trayvon Generation by Elizabeth Alexander
Amid civil unrest in the summer of 2020, Elizabeth Alexander turned a mother’s eye to her sons’ and students’ generation and wrote a celebrated and moving reflection on the challenges facing young Black America. Originally published in the New Yorker, the essay incisively and lovingly observed the experiences, attitudes, and cultural expressions of Elizabeth Alexander refers to as the Trayvon Generation, who even as children could not be shielded from the brutality that has affected the lives of so many Black people.
2) How Civil Wars Start by Barbara F. Walter
In this urgent and insightful book, Walter redefines civil war for a new age, providing the framework we need to confront the danger we now face — and the knowledge to stop it before it’s too late.
3) The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee
In this incredibly powerful book, Heather McGhee embarks on a deeply personal journey across the country from Maine to Mississippi to California, tallying what we lose when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm — the idea that progress for some of us must come at the expense of others. Along the way, she finds proof of what she calls the Solidarity Dividend: the benefits we gain when people come together across race to accomplish what we simply can’t do on our own.
4) Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
While this book was published in the 1960s, it remains just as relevant today and was hugely influential for how we think about belonging.
5) How Minds Change by David McRaney
As someone who believes deeply in the power of communications, I know how important — and difficult — it is to change people’s minds. That’s why I loved McRaney’s book that examined the latest research from psychologists and neuroscientists about the limits of reasoning, the power of groupthink, and the effects of deep canvassing. McRaney challenges us to question our own motives and beliefs and asks if in an age of dangerous conspiratorial thinking, whether we can rise to the occasion with empathy.
6) The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy by Anand Giridharadas
Like McRaney’s book, Giridharadas also focuses on how we can shift people’s thinking. He introduces us to a leader of Black Lives Matter; a trailblazer in the feminist resistance to Trumpism; white parents at a seminar on raising adopted children of color; an ex-cult member turned QAnon deprogrammer; and many others. As the book’s subjects grapple with how to call out threats and injustices while calling in those who don’t agree with them (but just might one day), they point a way to healing, and changing, a fracturing country.
In the inaugural episode WONDERLAND co-hosts, Bridgit Antoinette Evans and Tracy Van Slyke, introduce WONDERLAND and break down the role and meaning of culture change on our society. And in a foundational conversation with Washington Post culture critic Alyssa Rosenberg, they explore the historical and current connection between pop culture and storytelling on race and politics, and question if the entertainment industry is capable of making better choices and better stories.
And one more, not only because it was written by the husband of our very own, Michele Jawando, but because it’s a truly excellent read:
8) My Seven Black Fathers by Will Jawando
In the words of Ibram X. Kendi, “Jawando’s account of mentorship, service, and healing lays waste to the racist stereotype of the absent Black father. By arguing that Black fathers are not just found in individual families, but are indeed the treasure of entire Black communities, Will makes the case for a bold idea: that Black men can counter racist ideas and policies by virtue of their presence in the lives of Black boys and young men. This is a story we need to hear.”