141 The Souls of Black Folk

soulsofblackfolkby W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903

There is a certain sense of wonder – or is it chagrin? – when reading a hundred-year-old book that exemplifies the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Such is the case with W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of essays published at the turn of the 20th century that are, sadly, as poignant today as they were a mere 40 years post-Emancipation. Race relations have no doubt improved greatly since then, yet not so much as to prevent the reader from sitting slack-jawed and wondering if Du Bois were writing these words today. He and his ideas are far from obsolete.

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121 The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution

dofiby Richard Beeman, ed., 2012

You may wonder why I’m reading this. How can you not know the D of I and the Constitution? you might ask. Sure, I took AP Government like any good high schooler and I’m bound to have studied these documents then, but that was nearly 20 years ago and I’ll be damned if I remember anything other than who my teacher was and who I used to pass notes to. As Richard Beeman notes in his introduction to this first book in the lovely Penguin Civics Classics series, “There is…[a] large body of evidence suggesting that Americans’ knowledge of their history and of the way in which their institutions have worked over the course of history is embarrassingly meager.” And, really, I’m just trying not to be one of those Americans. I had a conversation with a friend recently where I relayed an ignorant comment I’d heard in regards to The Underground Railroad.  The reviewer in question erroneously believed the literal railroad, as depicted in the book, to be true and I wondered how someone could lack that basic understanding of American history. “The question is,” my friend said, “how responsible are we, as people of color, to seek out and educate the ignorant?”

“Is it our responsibility to educate? Or is it their responsibility to seek education?” I countered. “After high school, is not the onus on the individual to educate themselves?”

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114 Washington: A Life

washingtonby Ron Chernow, 2010

I’ve never been much for reading biographies, so when I saw an acquaintance pledge to read a biography for each president last year I thought, that’s nice, but not for me. It wasn’t until I read this Book Riot piece, in the midst of our political upheaval, that I started to understand the reasoning behind the challenge. I, too, have felt woefully uneducated about our country’s history and, if the “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” aphorism has any truth to it – and I believe it does – then I need to learn me some history stat. That’s how I came to decide that I, too, would embark on the challenge to read a biography of each American president and hopefully offer a little less ignorance to the world.

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93 Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb

trinityby Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, 2012

I don’t remember where I ran across this book, but its title and subject matter immediately caught my eye. You see, I grew up at White Sands Missile Range, a place whose large territory encompasses the Trinity testing site. Nuclear weaponry is part of our specific narrative as New Mexicans and it’s as common to learn about this in history class as it is to learn about the presidents. I wouldn’t say nuclear science is a particular area of my interest, but the idea of the area’s history told in graphic form was something I hadn’t seen before and the WSMR school child in me just had to get her hands on it.

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47 All the Single Ladies

single ladiesI have mixed feelings about All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation (Rebecca Traister, 2016). On the one hand I see the importance of shining light on a traditionally marginalized group, for that is what single women are. On the other hand, I’m not entirely certain who the intended audience is. Is it for married women, wishing to understand their unmarried daughters, sisters, and friends? For men, wishing to gain some insight into the opposite gender? Or is it for people like me, who can’t help but see themselves reflected so sharply? My guess is that it’s a bit for all – there’s as much to gained by reading about people whose lives are vastly different from yours as there is comfort to be found in discovering that you are very much not alone. For that may indeed be Traister’s theme – although we may be single, we are not alone.

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46 Notorious RBG

rbgI have to admit that I knew very little about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before reading this book. I was aware of her dissent in the Hobby Lobby birth control case, but I was not aware of how tirelessly she has worked for equal rights throughout her career. In Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (2015), authors Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik provide a thorough, yet highly readable and entertaining portrait of this influential woman.

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