Root and Press Newsletter Worcester's Independent Blog, Cafe and Bookstore
On Publishing and Politics

(We will have two newsletters this week - I was a little slow getting out last weeks newsletter. At least you will have something to read as it snows!)

Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri recently criticized Simon and Schuster for cancelling his book contract after he was seen riling up the mob that eventually attacked the Capitol building on January 6th. Later that evening, Hawley continued to insist on debating the legitimacy of electoral procedures in November, the supposed cause rioters cited as justification for storming Washington. Hawley's actions put pressure S&S to cut ties. He labeled the decision by S&S "Orwellian" and bemoaned the decline of free speech in America. 

The accusation was wrong on multiple fronts, comically so if the severity of his accusations were not so near and dear to the heart of American democracy. First and foremost, Simon and Schuster is a private company, not the government, and first amendment rights...well this doesn't have to delve into a Civics 101 lesson, does it? For a discussion about a sitting Senator? How does one swear an oath to a Constitution that he or she obviously does not understand?

Anyhow, a company that has the capability to cancel a book deal by an elected representative is an exercise in unadulterated agency, the ultimate standard of a free press in a democratic society. This is not a quasi-political stance by the company (besides signing Hawley in the first place, S&S frequently publishes books by right-leaning political thinkers, from Ben Shapiro to Sean Hannity to Mark Levin) and even if it was, it would still be their right to choose to cancel. Rather, this was a business reaction to a man complicit in the unprecedented assault on the institutions that ensure our political freedoms and government transparency. (As an aside, I'm sure this book, courtesy of the Streisand effect, will sell just fine!)

Publishers, especially large publishers like S&S, do not necessarily have to support the views of the books they publish or distribute. In fact, it would run counter to their business interests to limit their selections to a certain ideological viewpoints and would be antithetical to a grounding principle of the book trade in general - the discussion of ideas and viewpoints. S&S publishes and distributes books from authors from across the political spectrum, demonstrating they are willing to amplify the debates occurring in America by presenting the citizenry a wide range of perspectives to draw from. (In a twist of fate, Regnery has agreed to publish the book. Regnery is distributed nationally by, you guessed it, Simon and Schuster. The company has a distribution contract where they cannot select the titles they choose to distribute.) 

We have seen the damage when media slant is labeled as fake news. Throughout the election year, the free press has consistently been under attack by those in power. We must remember what a truly curtailed and compromised press looks like. A neutered press does not and cannot refuse to publish government accounts but rather is used to establish control over citizens through propaganda and media monopoly. The press in America can be slanted, it can be biased, and it can misconstrue facts to fit their agenda. The insinuation that the cutting of ties with one author by one publisher somehow makes the publishing branch or the press a third arm of some unknown and vague Orwellian apparatus is incoherent. The Senator tried to unite these themes and ultimately failed.

This week I will be posting a review of MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohammed bin Salman by Ben Hubbard. One of the most nefarious acts against journalism this century occurred on the watch (many would argue at the behest) of MBS: the murder of Washington Post author Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey in 2018. There are malicious acts committed against writers and journalists the world over. There are heinous governments using media to maintain control over non-consenting populaces every day. For Senator Hawley to argue his cancelled book deal is an egregious violation of his free speech rights is farcical. Ultimately, statements like his undermine the oppressed voices of countless citizens and journalists throughout the world who are truly persecuted for their viewpoints.

Book Reviews

We published two new reviews last week. One was by Andrew Ahern on the book Why Trust Science, a timely look at the push-and-pull between believing science and challenging the established status quo (as well as those who often dismiss its findings outright.) 

The other review was published by Jerry Lembke, Associate Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts. He reviewed Pulp Vietnam, a look at the cultural influence of young men's 1950's magazines on the psyche of the youth who would eventually fight in Vietnam.

Review: Why Trust Science by Naomi Oreskes
Science is in a crisis of trust. Politicians frequently deny the role of humans in…

Read more...
Review: Pulp Vietnam by Gregory A. Daddis
The Fantasies of 1950s’ Men’s Magazines Meet Real War.

Read more...
New Releases (Published 01/26)

American Baby by Gabrielle Glaser

 During the Baby Boom in 1960s America, women were encouraged to stay home and raise large families, but sex and childbirth were taboo subjects. Premarital sex was common, but birth control was hard to get and abortion was illegal. In 1961, sixteen-year-old Margaret Erle fell in love and became pregnant. Her enraged family sent her to a maternity home, and after she gave birth, she wasn't even allowed her to hold her own son. Social workers threatened her with jail until she signed away her parental rights. Her son vanished, his whereabouts and new identity known only to an adoption agency that would never share the slightest detail about his fate.

Claiming to be acting in the best interests of all, the adoption business was founded on secrecy and lies. American Baby lays out how a lucrative and exploitative industry removed children from their birth mothers and placed them with hopeful families, fabricating stories about infants' origins and destinations, then closing the door firmly between the parties forever. Adoption agencies and other organizations that purported to help pregnant women struck unethical deals with doctors and researchers for pseudoscientific assessments, and shamed millions of young women into surrendering their children.

Gabrielle Glaser dramatically demonstrates the power of the expectations and institutions that Margaret faced. Margaret went on to marry and raise a large family with David's father, but she never stopped longing for and worrying about her firstborn. She didn't know he spent the first years of his life living just a few blocks away from her; as he grew, he wondered about where he came from and why he was given up. Their tale--one they share with millions of Americans--is one of loss, love, and the search for identity.

Adoption's closed records are being legally challenged in states nationwide. Open adoption is the rule today, but the identities of many who were adopted or who surrendered a child in the postwar decades are locked in sealed files. American Baby illuminates a dark time in our history and shows a path to reunion that can help heal the wounds inflicted by years of shame and secrecy.

Robert E. Lee and Me by Ty Seidule

 

Ty Seidule grew up revering Robert E. Lee. From his southern childhood to his service in the U.S. Army, every part of his life reinforced the Lost Cause myth: that Lee was the greatest man who ever lived, and that the Confederates were underdogs who lost the Civil War with honor. Now, as a retired brigadier general and Professor Emeritus of History at West Point, his view has radically changed. From a soldier, a scholar, and a southerner, Ty Seidule believes that American history demands a reckoning.

In a unique blend of history and reflection, Seidule deconstructs the truth about the Confederacy--that its undisputed primary goal was the subjugation and enslavement of Black Americans--and directly challenges the idea of honoring those who labored to preserve that system and committed treason in their failed attempt to achieve it. Through the arc of Seidule's own life, as well as the culture that formed him, he seeks a path to understanding why the facts of the Civil War have remained buried beneath layers of myth and even outright lies--and how they embody a cultural gulf that separates millions of Americans to this day.

Part history lecture, part meditation on the Civil War and its fallout, and part memoir, Robert E. Lee and Me challenges the deeply-held legends and myths of the Confederacy--and provides a surprising interpretation of essential truths that our country still has a difficult time articulating and accepting.

Reading, Writing, and Racism by Bree Picower

 When racist curriculum goes viral on social media, it is typically dismissed as an isolated incident from a bad teacher. Educator Bree Picower, however, holds that racist curriculum isn't an anomaly. It's a systemic problem that reflects how Whiteness is embedded and reproduced in education. In Reading, Writing, and Racism, Picower argues that White teachers must reframe their understanding about race in order to advance racial justice and that this must begin in teacher education programs.

Drawing on her experience teaching and developing a program that prepares teachers to focus on social justice and antiracism, Picower demonstrates how teachers' ideology of race, consciously or unconsciously, shapes how they teach race in the classroom. She also examines current examples of racist curricula that have gone viral to demonstrate how Whiteness is entrenched in schools and how this reinforces racial hierarchies in the younger generation.

With a focus on institutional strategies, Picower shows how racial justice can be built into programs across the teacher education pipeline--from admission to induction. By examining the who, what, why, and how of racial justice teacher education, she provides radical possibilities for transforming how teachers think about, and teach about, race in their classrooms.

Göring's Man in Paris by Jonathan Petropoulos

Bruno Lohse (1911-2007) was one of the most notorious art plunderers in history. Appointed by Hermann Göring to Hitler's art looting agency in Paris, he went on to help supervise the systematic theft and distribution of more than thirty thousand artworks, taken largely from French Jews, and to assist Göring in amassing an enormous private art collection. By the 1950s Lohse was officially denazified but was back in the art dealing world, offering masterpieces of dubious origin to American museums. After his death, dozens of paintings by Renoir, Monet, and Pissarro, among others, were found in his Zurich bank vault and adorning the walls of his Munich home. Jonathan Petropoulos spent nearly a decade interviewing Lohse and continues to serve as an expert witness for Holocaust restitution cases. Here he tells the story of Lohse's life, offering a critical examination of the postwar art world.

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

This is the women's war, just as much as it is the men's. They have waited long enough for their turn . . .

This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of them all. In the middle of the night, a woman wakes to find her beloved city engulfed in flames. Ten seemingly endless years of conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans are over. Troy has fallen. From the Trojan women whose fates now lie in the hands of the Greeks, to the Amazon princess who fought Achilles on their behalf, to Penelope awaiting the return of Odysseus, to the three goddesses whose feud started it all, these are the stories of the women whose lives, loves, and rivalries were forever altered by this long and tragic war.

Let the Lord Sort Them by Maurice Chammah

 In 1972, the United States Supreme Court made a surprising ruling: the country's death penalty system violated the Constitution. The backlash was swift, especially in Texas, where executions were considered part of the cultural fabric, and a dark history of lynching was masked by gauzy visions of a tough-on-crime frontier. When executions resumed, Texas quickly became the nationwide leader in carrying out the punishment. Then, amid a larger wave of criminal justice reform, came the death penalty's decline, a trend so durable that even in Texas the punishment appears again close to extinction.

In Let the Lord Sort Them, Maurice Chammah charts the rise and fall of capital punishment through the eyes of those it touched. We meet Elsa Alcala, the orphaned daughter of a Mexican American family who found her calling as a prosecutor in the nation's death penalty capital, before becoming a judge on the state's highest court. We meet Danalynn Recer, a lawyer who became obsessively devoted to unearthing the life stories of men who committed terrible crimes, and fought for mercy in courtrooms across the state. We meet death row prisoners--many of them once-famous figures like Henry Lee Lucas, Gary Graham, and Karla Faye Tucker--along with their families and the families of their victims. And we meet the executioners, who struggle openly with what society has asked them to do. In tracing these interconnected lives against the rise of mass incarceration in Texas and the country as a whole, Chammah explores what the persistence of the death penalty tells us about forgiveness and retribution, fairness and justice, history and myth.

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