CNE 2020 Summer Reading List

2020 Summer Reading List

Great books enlighten, empower and energize us to seek new insights.
CNE staff members share what they are reading.

Published on August 4, 2020

Center for a New Economy

Miguel Soto-Class, President

My reading of late has been influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic and its ripple effects on public health, economics and political systems. In an effort to not simply wait to be blindsided by events as they unfold, I’ve been interested in how these types of phenomena develop, how human psychology and behavior factor in, and what the role and responsibilities of independent experts should be in an era of government dysfunction.

Nuria Ortiz Vargas, Executive Director

The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein (2017)
Given the recent protests after the death of George Floyd, we should make it our duty to understand why we have advanced so little in our essential responsibility to end racism. Unfortunately, public policies have a lot do with this. I am naturally inclined to learn about this given the work we do at CNE, but anyone interested in having a basic understanding of why are we so behind in achieving a fair and just society should read this book.

Bolivar: Libertador de América, Marie Arana (2020)
La figura de Simón Bolivar, como tantas otras, ha sido utilizada para representar ideales muy distintos a los que promulgó el Libertador de América. Este libro prove una mirada fascinante a la Latinoamérica de principios del siglo XIX; a las circunstancias & las personas que definieron la vida de Bolivar y a su carácter & convicciones.

Sergio M. Marxuach, Policy Director

Eddie Glaude, Jr., Professor of African American Studies at Princeton, analyzes the complex racial dynamics of the United States through the lens of the writings of James Baldwin. In this book, Glaude argues for a “third American founding” that will conclude the unfinished agenda of the Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement. He takes his title from an essay by Baldwin, who after the collapse of the civil rights activism in the 1970s wrote that “not everything is lost…responsibility cannot be lost, it can only be abdicated. If one refuses abdication, one begins again.” Baldwin was not only a world-class writer but also a keen observer of American society who suffered much discrimination for being both Black and gay. Yet he remained hopeful that by confronting America’s painful history it was possible to transcend it and create a different, better society that he called the New Jerusalem.

In this book, prize-winning historian Anne Applebaum writes about the dangerous allure of a new blood and soil, xenophobic nationalism that is emerging around the world. Applebaum warns us that these “despotic leaders do not rule alone; they rely on political allies, bureaucrats, and media figures to pave their way and support their rule.” And she describes “the new advocates of illiberalism in countries around the world, showing how they use conspiracy theory, political polarization, social media, and even nostalgia to change their societies.” In a sense, the author describes political movements that seek the creation of a new crypto-fascist social order that is many ways the very opposite of Baldwin’s New Jerusalem.

In sum, these two books describe the radically different paths that political and social reform could take in the near future. Which one prevails will define our politics for generations to come.

Rosanna Torres, Director, Washington D.C. Office

2020 has ignited a lot of pent up anger and motivated us to raise our hands – fists up – against longstanding injustices, renewing a collective effort to stand against social oppression. Against the hard realities of this pandemic and foreseeing the inequities that will continue to surface, I’ve stocked up on several books and movies that have driven my summer reading and TV binges. Here are two I highly recommend. 
Our sense of history is predominantly made up of a collection of stories by the dominant political class that presents a top-down account of events and critical junctures of our past.  But there are always two sides to a story and history is rarely told by the oppressed.  
In A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn seeks to present history through a different lens, shedding light on often overlooked disadvantaged segments of the population.  
A critical first step to understand the psychology behind our actions and the behavioral patterns in each and every one of us, in each segment of our society, is to look at the whole picture – the struggles and victories of the black men and women that have fought for equal representation, the story of tribal nations chased from their own land, the chronicles of the many women, advocates and labor groups that fought tirelessly to secure justice and individual freedoms – and make concerted effort to question that which has been portrayed as the sole truth. 
Based on a 1985 novel by Canadian Margaret Atwood, the television series A Handmaid’s Tale is a telling – and frightening – fictional representation of how political structures effect our daily lives.  It demonstrates how easy it is for a powerful group of individuals to transform an outspoken democracy into a religiously inclined totalitarian regime.  The storyline is ever more alarming in our current political dystopia.  Both the book and the TV drama make it very clear: we cannot stand idly by the sidelines and wait for change; we must fight for it. 

Deepak Lamba-Nieves, Ph.D., Research Director

Like most people across the globe, I’ve spent countless hours inside my house trying to understand and make sense of what’s transpiring “out there” while the pandemic rages on. As the summer winds down, I am also getting ready for a new academic semester where I’ll be teaching a graduate planning theory seminar at the University of Puerto Rico, but this time in an online format (a first for me). Thus, my reading recommendations span several topics, places and genres. They include: a brief historical examination into the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic and its impacts on Puerto Rico, an edited volume on how neoliberalism manifests itself through the built environment, a powerful analysis on race and a guide on how to become an antiracist, and a humorous and entertaining novel about a rookie detective in Angola.     

Raúl Santiago Bartolomei, Ph.D., Research Associate

The world is simultaneously becoming more urbanized and unequal, thus, it is to be expected that increasing inequality manifests itself spatially. Such inequality is frequently the result of economic forces that increasingly push people towards places with more unaffordable and/or substandard housing, as well as with less possibilities of achieving social mobility, resulting in more marginalized and segregated communities across cities throughout the world. Mostly, however, this segregation (along both racial and class lines) is the direct result of deliberate design. In Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities, Carl H. Nightingale provides a thorough historical examination on how cities across the world have been segregated and how this continues to permeate in urban trends to this day.

Along similar lines comes Pushback Talks a very welcome podcast by former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, and filmmaker Fredrik Gertten. From Airbnb, to the lack of adequate shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic, this very timely show provides in-depth commentary insight on current issues that affect housing and cities all over the world.