Ten Highly Highly Recommended Books

Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer

I think everyone should read this book. It’s a series of essays from the author, a moss specialist of the Potowatamie tribe. The book is heartfelt, kind, and earnest. It’s an invitation to understand concepts including indigenous science, remembering to remember, the honorable harvest, and all thriving is mutual. It contains the sweetest act of kindness I’ve ever heard of. She bridges worlds, makes all things sacred, and presents a path forward for human existence as part of earth.

The Invention of Nature, Andrea Wulf

This is a biography of Alexander von Humboldt. If you didn’t know Alexander von Humboldt, you did know him, actually. But you didn’t know it was him. He pretty much discovered every part of your physical science class from school. Over 200 years ago. He was a climber, a scientist, and a teacher. No wonder I liked this book so much! It is the most exciting adventure reading I’ve done since The Wild Trees by Richard Preston. The author introduces some of his legacy as well with chapters on Darwin, Thoreau, and others. There’s a neat tie-in with El Libertador, Simon Bolivar, too. 

Entangled Life, Merlin Sheldrake

Fungi from a fun guy. I read this one right after The Invention of Nature and it was a perfect follow-up. From the latest science and innovations to the oldest examples of literal culture (from termites). Drugs, alcohol, saving the bees. An adventure in hyphae. FASCINATING (all caps). Science writing at its best: it walks you through the problem-solving cleverness of scientists learning things we don’t know that will and have already change/d our world.

Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu

I laughed, I was gripped, and worlds were opened for me. This is a book that shares Asian-American experience from the angle of an aspiring actor and his family history. It’s a satire that isn’t disconnected from suffering. The courtroom scene had me cheering.  And I’m not sure I’ve ever cheered consciously while reading.

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement, Barbara Ransby.

This is a story of the radical democratic leader instrumental in the civil rights movement. Sometimes referred to as the mother of SNCC, Ella Baker brought a wisdom and a leadership style that built up so many of the leaders you have heard of like Bob Moses, John Lewis, and Marian Wright Edelman (among many, many others). While the SNCC chapters might be the most exciting of the book, her history working in Harlem through the Great Depression and her organizing with the NAACP during WWII is also fascinating. An instructive story for our times on organizing, leadership, and inspiration.

Where Do We Go from Here? Dr. Martin Luther King

My first MLK book. You like his speeches? You will like his book! Relevant. Necessary. Grounding. From his perspectives on Black Power to his vision of the world as a house. This was the King who was organizing for economic justice. This was the King speaking out against the Vietnam war. The King that was terribly unpopular for his reasoned stances for justice. I recognized a few of his quotes I’ve heard in the past in this book. One of my favorites is this one: Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

See No Stranger, Valerie Kaur

A gifted storyteller with a beautiful vision for the future. She’s one of a few I’ve learned about who seem to be taking the mantle of Dr. King’s beloved community. She’s pithy like King, too. This book has a kind of roadmap to how we get to the beloved community: revolutionary love. The author had a talk that went viral after Trump was elected with the question, “Is this the darkness of the tomb, or the darkness of the womb?” We can labor, she says, to birth the nation we need now. Breath and push.

The Whole Language, Gregory Boyle

A hyperactive wisdom-filled book. Story after heartbreaking/uplifting story from Father Boyle’s 30-year plus career in gang ministry. If you work with people, or just yourself, read this book. He channels mystics and brings them right down to earth.

The Schoolhouse Gate, Justin Driver

I loved this legal history that examines the intersection of public schools and the Supreme Court. The relevance of old cases such as West Virginia v. Barnett astounded me. I suppose at some point I’ll stop being surprised at how relevant history is. I guess we keep screwing things up in similar ways. The author presents nuanced reports of the cases: the people involved, the decisions, dissents, and the author’s takes. From the most well-known cases like Brown v. Board to the many that should be less obscure like Ingraham v. Wright. It’s detailed but never went too deep into any rabbit holes. It’s smart and careful. In that way it’s a nice antidote to most media.

Schoolhouse Burning, Derek Black

A history of the USA’s dedication to public education plus the history of democracy/schooling. It is one thing. Democracy has always been dependent on pubic schools. As public schools go, so goes the republic. From the ideals of the founders to the red-state teacher uprisings. This book challenged me to envision ways education can be liberating after I learned about the ways formerly enslaved African Americans demanded and flocked to education and schools as part of their path to full freedom. How do schools shackle? How do they liberate?

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