RECOMMENDED READING FOR OBAMA…. The Washington Monthly has a feature in our new issue with book recommendations for the new president, with suggestions from some of our favorite writers and thinkers. We’re covering the recommendations in an ongoing series of posts. Here’s the next two from our list.
I suggest The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS, by Helen Epstein. My premise is that the new president is a serious reader, is passionate about the big issues of his presidency, and hungers for reliable explication and detail, yet has limited time and therefore needs a single volume that is both easy to read and transformational in its effects. This at least was my experience as an accidental reader of The Invisible Cure. Epstein is a molecular biologist who has worked extensively in Africa — her tough, fair-minded, empathetic, and empirical book changed utterly what I understood about the “social ecology” of the greatest medical crisis of our era and the policies that might address it. She is as hard on the United States as she is on African governments, and by this method has produced a great service to both. President Bush’s heartfelt but flawed approach to the AIDS crisis in Africa is one of his few truly positive legacies; if President Obama finds time for this book, he will not dare abandon Bush’s cause, but he will be smarter about its pursuit.
A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, is the perfect way for the new president to relearn history for our troubled moral (see: torture) and economic times. It reminds us that unrestrained nationalism and crony capitalism are poisons which savage the have-nots. Zinn looks at the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, the labor movement, and even how the West was won from the point of view of that vast majority of us who don’t have the capital, don’t make the decisions, and don’t write the history books, but do get to do all the grunt work while the rich get richer. If nothing else, it would force Obama to contemplate the reality that we citizens are much too deferential to authority, far too willing to blame ourselves for not being a “have,” and woefully susceptible to the old strategy of “divide and conquer.”