#BookReview: The Peer Effect by Syed Ali and Margaret M. Chin

Overt Racism And Extensive Elitism Mar Otherwise Intriguing Premise. In “shit sandwich” form, let’s start out with something good, shall we? The premise here, that peer groups affect behavior more than most other factors, is one that few sociologists – at least those I’ve seen in my 20+ years on the outskirts of that field – have openly espoused. Thus, this book was immediately intriguing and in fact had at least some promise here.

But then we get to the overt racism against anything white male and the extensive elitism in promoting New York City and in particular one particularly exclusive high school as the epitome of virtually everything, openly declaring multiple times that NYC is the cultural heart of the US, among several other elitist (and typical New Yorker) claims. The longer the text goes, the more and more overt the authors get in showing their anti-white male racist misandry, until finally at one point, after clearly establishing “cultures that are longstanding” and similar phrases to mean “white male”, the authors openly state “Cultures that are longstanding have a built-in legitimacy to them; to change them means that people inside and outside of that culture *have to see aspects of their identity, their culture, as illegitimate, as immoral, as wrong.*” (emphasis mine). Imagine the outcry if a white author had made the same statement in reference to virtually any other demographic – and *that* is my standard for detecting bigotry: invert the demographics involved. If there would be outcry, it is likely bigoted. Thus, one star is deducted for the overt racism in particular, and the other star is deducted for the pervasive elitism.

Finally, I can say that the bibliography being roughly 20% of the text was perhaps a touch low, but at least on the low end of *normal* in my extensive experience with Advance Reviewer Copies. And yes, as I am writing this review almost fully six months prior to publication, this means that I am in fact reading and reviewing an ARC here.

Overall, there is enough positive and worthy of consideration here to keep this fairly safely above my dreaded “gold mine” label, but there is still enough detritus here that one should approach the text a bit warily. Still, it does in fact bring some worthy wrinkles to the public discourse, and for that reason it *should* be widely read. Recommended.

This review of The Peer Effect by Syed Ali and Margaret M. Chin was originally written on May 24, 2023.

#BookReview: Excluded by Richard D Kahlenberg

Well Documented Examination Of How Class Is Used To Separate More Than Race In Modern Era. Seriously, this is one of the better documented texts I’ve read in quite some time, clocking in at about 37% documentation. And given its claims that some might find extraordinary – such as “In a 2014 analysis, one researcher found that the level of segregation between poor Black and affluent Black families was actually greater than that between Black families and White families” – the extraordinary documentation is needed in order to more fully prove the case, which Kahlenberg does quite well indeed here. As Kahlenberg notes early, zoning isn’t really something most Americans think about too much unless they happen to buy a piece of property (and how many of us actually do that these days??) and have some issue with the local zoning board. But zoning directly impacts the availability of housing – which is something quite a few Americans are worried about in the early part of the 2020s. Kahlenberg pulls no punches here, and shows how elites – no matter their Party or race – have been using these issues to overcome previous (and wrong and correctly outlawed) race-based barriers. As a white dude who grew up in the 80s and 90s in a trailer park, and whose wife once lived in a duplex – both forms of housing that are routinely being zoned out of existence in more recent years – I’ve been in and around this all my life, but Kahlenberg finally puts an academic focus on what I’ve observed “on the street” and shows that the problem is actually far worse than even I had realized. Truly an outstanding work, and one anyone concerned about the housing market or “social justice” needs to read. Very much recommended.

This review of Excluded by Richard D. Kahlenberg was originally written on January 30, 2023.

#BookReview: Don’t Hold Back by David Platt

Far From Radical. This is a book that should be widely read because it does have some interesting and important things to say – and yet it was also far from a radical adherence to the teachings of Jesus Christ that the description would lead one to believe. Even among the first three chapters, Chapter 2 openly counters the claims and arguments of Chapters 1 and 3, with Chapter 2 being a hyper-progressive/ leftist screed one would hardly expect from someone affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, and whose arguments are never actually found in the words or actions of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The ubiquitous-but-heavier-later defense of the American government and American military is, again, far from radical and completely unBiblical, but will feed right into those very conservative SBC churches Platt has long been associated with. Thus showing that Platt doesn’t mind crossing current political boundaries – and yet, again, Platt never in this text does the truly radical thing of embracing a full-throated embrace of YAHWEH as declared in 1 Samuel 8 (which would require a full rejection of all earthly kings).

But on all of the above, ultimately your mileage will vary and there will be some points you agree with no matter your own political slants and others you disagree with, which is actually (to my own mind at least) the mark of a Christian preacher actually doing his job – because in Christ, there *are* no politics, and the things Christ does speak of and do do *not* align neatly with 21st century American politics.

No, ultimately the two star deductions come from two more basic and more technical errors here:

1) Prooftexting, which is citing Bible verses out of context. Platt is far from alone in this practice – most *every* Christian author does it, and even some non-Christian ones – and yet it is *wrong* on so many levels. Thus, I wage a one-man war against the practice any time I encounter it, and the only “weapon” I have in that war as a book reviewer is a star deduction.

2) Lack of Bibliography. Coming in at barely 15% of the overall text here, this is lighter than the 20-30% that is more typical in my experience, and far from the particularly-well-documented level of near 50%. For the amount of non-Biblical claims Platt makes and in particular how controversial at least some of them can be, there really needs to be *far* better documentation of them.

Ultimately this *is* a book that will challenge you to some degree or another virtually no matter what your thinking is on religion and/ or politics, and that alone makes it a worthy read for everyone. Very much recommended.

This review of Don’t Hold Back by David Platt was originally written on October 29, 2022.

#BookReview: Nation Of Victims by Vivek Ramaswamy

Stacey Abrams == Donald Trump. And The Way Back Is To Ignore Both. Ok, so the title here was a bit intentionally inflammatory – but Ramaswamy *does* essentially make this very point late in the book, pointing to how both Abrams and Trump see themselves as victims of election fraud rather than candidates who lost elections because more voters legitimately sided with their opponents. But to get there, and to get from there to how we can truly come back, Ramaswamy dives through American history, legal theory, and even his Hindu religion to show how both progressives and conservatives have largely adopted a victimhood mentality. Interestingly, he never once cites Ayn Rand’s examinations of this same idea in Atlas Shrugged. Overall an interesting book worthy of consideration, and with a fairly normal bibliography at about 21% of the overall text here. Very much recommended.

This review of Nation of Victims by Vivek Ramaswamy was originally written on July 17, 2022.

#BookReview: I Will Die On This Hill by Meghan Ashburn and Jules Edwards

Racism And Misandry Deeply Mar Otherwise Interesting Concept. The idea behind this book – that a neurotypical Autism Mom and an #ActuallyAutistic mom of Autistic kids get together and have a constructive discussion – is fascinating because of how rarely Autism Moms in particular are willing to bridge that gap. And to be clear, there is a lot of good information here, and in the notes at the end of each chapter, two books I’ve previously reviewed – Eric Garcia’s We’re Not Broken and Steven Silberman’s Neurotribes – are both recommended. Unfortunately the good information is deeply marred by the authors’ misandry and racism against anything white and/ or male – even while male Autistics! Indeed, in naming all kinds of other autism advocacy organizations, the authors fail to mention one of the biggest and most successful in the US – the Autism Self Advocacy Network. And in marginalizing and delegitimizing both the successes and the struggles of white and/ or male Autistics, the author actively denigrate the admittedly largest section of known or even suspected Autistics. All while claiming to try to “bridge the gap” in speaking about Autism from both Autistic and neurotypical perspectives. Ultimately your own view of this book will come down to how much you agree with the authors’ own blatant bigotries. Though again, there are at least some discussions here genuinely worthy of wading through their mire to see and examine. Indeed, just enough to elevate them to more than the few flakes here or there of my dreaded “gold mine” status – though only just. Two stars deducted for racism and sexism, and the third star is deducted for the lack of intellectual rigor in having a bibliography that even accounting for the recommended resources sections at the end of each chapter still barely accounts for 10% or so of the text (just 4% at the end of the overall narrative where the bibliography is normally found), which is about half to one third of the more standard bibliography of better documented texts in my extensive experience with even months-early advance reader copies. Recommended, if barely.

This review of I Will Die On This Hill by Meghan Ashburn and Jules Edwards was originally written on July 3, 2022.

Featured New Release Of The Week: What’s Left Unsaid by Emily Bleeker

This week we’re looking at an interesting look at race relations in the South by an author who was raised in the South yet lives deep within Yankee country now. This week we’re looking at What’s Left Unsaid by Emily Bleeker.

Here’s what I had to say about it on Goodreads:

Solid Work of Fiction. This is a difficult one. There is *so much* “white people are evil” “racial discussion” through the first 2/3 of the book that at the time it looked like it would be my first *ever* 4* review for this author (and I’ve reviewed *all* of her prior books, either after publication or, as in this case, as advance reader copies). That noted, it *did* have a couple of moments of calling out the white guilt in ways I’ve often wanted to scream myself. Between these moments and the back third largely dropping these discussions in favor of more deeply diving into the substance of the tale at hand, the latest 5* review was indeed saved, as the story overall is in fact that strong – particularly that back third, when the various discussions and plot threads are woven together quite remarkably… and explosively. Indeed, while it is not known if the *exact* resolution of everything is real, one could very easily imagine it being so. I read for escapism, and if you’re looking for that particular goal in the current environment… maybe wait a few years to read this one. But realize that this one was effectively finished (minus the polishing and publication mechanics) right as the race wars of the summer of 2020 were exploding, which alone provides a degree of context for much of those discussions. Overall a truly strong book for what it is, and still very much recommended.

And for the first time in a very long time, I actually have some additional commentary here. ๐Ÿ˜€

Emily is a long time Facebook friend. Indeed, a lot of the areas I now work heavily in within the ARC world, she was the one that got me into the early steps of. I had read her debut book, WRECKAGE, years ago and LOVE it, and when she posted about an opportunity to join up with an ARC group for her publisher, I jumped on it. But she and I have had *dramatically* different experiences with race in the South, even as white adults of a similar age (+/- just 5 yrs or so). This book is actually based in part on letters uncovered in her own family research there in the actual town in Mississippi she places the book in, and the book is what she saw growing up.

But for me, my own formative years as a Child of the South were truly *extremely* different. Right around the time I was reading this book – and likely why I had such a strong reaction to it those weeks ago – I found out that my former elementary school Principal had died seemingly unknown in a minor one car accident on a somewhat back road in my hometown – the very day of the Atlanta Spa Shootings that grabbed national headline among accusations of racism. What is significant here is my own relationship with that man, Mr. Ralph Lowe, in particular. Mr. Lowe was a black teacher in the exurbs outside of Atlanta in the late 1970s, when he would become one of my dad’s high school teachers. A few years later, he was my own elementary school Principal, and just given the era had to be among the first – possibly *the* first – of his race to hold that title in that school system. But despite being active in causes and boards seeking to genuinely help his people – often quietly/ without media attention – throughout his life, and despite being of an age when he or his siblings likely actively participated in the Civil Rights Movement, Mr. Lowe demanded one thing and one thing only: That everyone treat him with the respect of his position, but otherwise exactly as they would anyone else. This was a point my dad emphasized himself emphatically in one memorable situation where I don’t remember what exactly I did to cause it (though I know that given the era, I did in fact do *something*), but dad – a product of his own era and location – made it *crystal* clear that I was to respect and obey Mr. Lowe just as much as I did my dad himself. In another foundational moment – really moments, as this was repeated much throughout my childhood, whenever my own step grandfather, the only “second grandfather” I ever knew after my natural one (dad’s father) died five weeks after my birth – would utter the infamous “N” word – my mom made it equally emphatic that her children were to *never* use that word under *any* circumstances. And again, my step-grandfather had been the product of his own generation and location, having been born deep in the Jim Crowe area in the area in the northwest corner of Alabama near Muscle Shoals. But I grew up in the 80s and 90s along the very route of that war criminal terrorist bastard William Tecumseh Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. I literally graduated high school within steps of rails of the Great Locomotive Chase at Adairsville and I graduated college in the same town the event had begun in, Kennesaw, Georgia. My college alma mater’s logo for years bore the outline of the mountain made famous during Sherman’s campaign that sits just a few miles from campus. My hometown, along the rails of the Locomotive Chase roughly halfway between the two, literally still bears the scars of Sherman’s actions via former train track pylons in the Etowah River whose tracks his men destroyed. And yet despite being steeped in so much history just from growing up where I did, my parents taught me *very* different lessons than what so much of society then and now wanted to preach. Growing up on the lower end of middle class (if we were even that high), I was shielded from the worst effects of American poverty – which is admittedly a much higher standard of living than the truly abject poverty I’ve seen even in my adult travels in the Caribbean. While I grew up in a trailer until just after I turned 12, my parents made it a point that we would always have food, clothing, shelter, and each other. Yes, this was helped at times by family (including my farmer/ hunter grandfather who would give us enough venison to last the winter, and who himself had not only survived the Battle of the Bulge, but had won a Purple Heart and Silver Star for his actions there… and then *never spoke of them*, not in the 20 years I knew the man and apparently not even in the 40+ my mother knew her own father). So with regards to *race*, I was taught to neither see nor treat anyone any differently at all, and any time I fell out of that standard the standard was very pointedly reinforced. With regards to *socioeconomic status*… other than one cousin (in a *very* large family) that I never really knew, I am the first to actually graduate college in my family. And thus in going from trailer park kid to now Assistant Vice President of a Forbes 50 company… I’ve seen a bit along the way. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But that is an entirely different story.

Read Emily’s book. It really is excellent, and she really is a truly amazing storyteller. My point with the above is more that hers, and the common media narrative, are not the *only* stories of my homeland and its people. And I urge you to seek out others, perhaps more similar to my own, as well.

But stop reading this and go read Emily’s book. ๐Ÿ˜€

#BookReview: Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev

Solid Romance. Tainted By Politics and Racism. First off, let me be absolutely crystal clear on one point: This was a truly solid romance featuring a man and woman who both know who they are – and the man finally realizing what he actually wants. Were that the be-all, end-all of this book, this is an absolute 5*, much like its predecessor. And because its predecessor *was* 5*, I requested this book the instant I saw it. I couldn’t *wait* to dive back into this world.

Unfortunately, that *wasn’t* the be-all, end-all of this book. Instead, the author’s own personal politics pore through the page here and indeed are quite preachy virtually every time she has most any character speak to political things. And considering the male lead here is running for Governor… this is quite often. But if it was just the preachy politics, this would have been a 4* review. It was heavy and pervasive and detracting from the actual story, and that merits the star deduction. (California politics. If Gavin Newsome and Nancy Pelosi are some of your favorite politicians, you’re gonna love this book. If not… you’re not. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

But even the pervasive preachy politics wasn’t enough to deduct *two* stars and get us down to a three star review from my default of 5 – which again, without the pervasive preachy politics and this next issue, this book would have absolutely gotten.

Unfortunately, that issue is blatant racism. Now, do I think that the author is an active racist? No, I don’t. I’ve interacted with her from time to time online, and I know she is as kind and generous as most any other author I’ve met in similar circles. But I *do* think that, in an extreme bit of irony, her own unconscious biases were so blatant that had nearly this exact same text been written with an all white, rather than an all-POC cast, and with the very things said of POCs that are said of white people in this text, the “woke” crowd would absolutely eviscerate this book as blatantly racist and would have called for the author to be fully “cancelled”. Every single time a white person or anyone that isn’t 110% in lockstep with the leftist agenda is mentioned, they are mentioned with some form of derision, casting them as some form of stupid or evil. Again, I do not think that this is an active thing with the author at all. As best I can tell, she is simply putting her own real world politics and thoughts into the text of this book without considering that perhaps others aren’t as evil or unintelligent as she seems to think they are because they disagree with those politics or have lighter shades of melanin in their skin.

And again, this is truly, truly a shame. Because if you write this same book in largely the same way, but edit out the racism and the pervasive preachy politics, this is *easily* a 5* romance tale. And, perhaps, if you agree with the racism in question and/ or the politics at hand, you may still feel it is 5*.

My reviews speak for themselves. I have a strong record of striving very hard to be as balanced and objective as possible within them, and therefore I hope the author and others take what I have written here as being from someone who genuinely wanted the book to be as strong as possible. Everyone in publishing knows that others are not always so balanced, and at minimum I hope I can at least prevent a few … shall we say, “more vitriolic”… reviews due to pointing out these issues in this review. And maybe even add a few sales, for those that happen to like the author’s perspectives here. ๐Ÿ™‚

I can’t go with a 3 word or less “recommended or not” status like I normally do, so I’ll end with this: Read this book. It truly deserves to be read, and outside of the issues noted here it is genuinely a strong book. But for me, and potentially many others, the issues noted here are major problems with what would otherwise be a truly great romance tale.

This review of Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev was originally written on March 29, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Unique by David Linden

This week we’re looking at one of the most precise science books I’ve encountered this year. This week, we’re looking at Unique by David Linden.

Given the topics Linden discusses here – among them sex, gender, sexuality, race, experience, even memory and sense – it is incredibly easy, maybe even tempting, for many authors of science books to wax at least somewhat political even while discussing the science of a given topic. Indeed, many do.

Linden does not, and that is one of the greatest strengths of this book.

Instead, Linden focuses *exactly* on where the science of the issue currently is, and says it with a fair degree of specificity. Such as instead of saying “many”, he’ll say “30%” – even if the exact number may be 27.84% or 32.16%, “30%” is close enough for those of us just trying for a general understanding of the topic at hand, and far more precise than many authors will give. Further, if the science is changing or inconclusive on a given topic, Linden notes this as well, at times even clearly noting where he himself has reviewed the research at hand.

Ultimately, the book does a truly remarkable job of explaining what we currently know about the science of human variance and how all of these combinations form to make an individual… well, an individual. Truly a remarkable read, and one that many would do well to read. ๐Ÿ™‚ Very much recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ BookBub review:
Continue reading “Featured New Release Of The Week: Unique by David Linden”

#BookReview: One Night In Georgia by Celeste O. Norfleet

Terminator 1968. This book seems accurate for the time, settings, and characterizations portrayed. Having grown up a couple of decades later in rural Ga outside of Atlanta and even in part – my grandmother and step grandfather lived there for a while when I was a kid – in one of the very Counties named in the book, even as a white man of the post-race era, this feels pretty damn accurate in its depictions. My only real quibble is that I can speak from experience that it isn’t race, but economic class, that drives much of the same treatment described in this text. Regardless, the book does an amazing job of spinning a fictional yet realistic tale around one tumultuous summer in our not distant past. The entire book in hind sight feels like it is leading up to one particular moment that it shares with the original Terminator movie, and just as that particular scene is what ultimately made me love the Terminator franchise as much as I do, this book’s version of it really cements this tale as simply stupendous. Truly great work, and very much recommended.

This review of One Night in Georgia by Celeste O. Norfleet was originally published on June 18, 2019.