Book Review: Jane Against the World by Karen Blumenthal

Today I’m sharing my review for JANE AGAINST THE WORLD, a nonfiction book about the history of women’s reproductive rights. It’s an important, easy, and relatively comprehensive read for those who want to learn more about this topic.

Author: Karen Blumenthal
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publish Date: February 25, 2020
Print Length: 400

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Book Review: Culture Warlords by Talia Lavin

Author: Talia Lavin
Publisher: Legacy Lit
Publish Date: October 13, 2020
Print Length: 288

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Official Synopsis

One reporter takes an immersive dive into white supremacy’s explosive online presence, exploring the undercurrents of propaganda, racism, misogyny, and history that led us to where we are now.

Talia Lavin is every skinhead’s worst nightmare: a loud and unapologetic Jewish woman, acerbic, smart, and profoundly antiracist, with the investigative chops to expose the tactics and ideologies of online hatemongers.

Culture Warlords is the story of how Lavin, a frequent target of extremist trolls (including those at Fox News), dove into a byzantine online culture of hate and learned the intricacies of how white supremacy proliferates online. Within these pages, she reveals the extremists hiding in plain sight online: Incels. White nationalists. White supremacists. National Socialists. Proud Boys. Christian extremists. In order to showcase them in their natural habitat, Talia assumes a range of identities, going undercover as a blonde Nazi babe, a forlorn incel, and a violent Aryan femme fatale. Along the way, she discovers a whites-only dating site geared toward racists looking for love, a disturbing extremist YouTube channel run by a fourteen-year-old girl with over 800,000 followers, the everyday heroes of the antifascist movement, and much more. By combining compelling stories chock-full of catfishing and gate-crashing with her own in-depth, gut-wrenching research, she also turns the lens of anti-Semitism, racism, and white power back on itself in an attempt to dismantle and decimate the online hate movement from within.

Shocking, humorous, and merciless in equal measure, Culture Warlords explores some of the vilest subcultures on the Web-and shows us how we can fight back.

My Review

How do I even review a book like Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy? Though it’s not a long book, it certainly covers a topic deserving of many analytical volumes of text. I’m not easily triggered, but even I found this book unsettling. I must admit, after reading it I’m wary of even of posting my bumbling review for fear of attracting unwanted attention.

As the full title suggests outright, the topic covered is white supremacy on the dark web. The author, Talia Lavin, adopted various identities to infiltrate these hate groups and learn more about what drives these people into the arms of misogyny, anti-Semitism, racism, and violence. To be frank, I expected more firsthand accounts of Lavin’s interactions with those she messaged on the dark web; at least, that’s what the full title suggested to me. I personally absorb more information when presented with examples. To be fair, Lavin does incorporate some exchanges, but most interactions are summarized allegorically and then analyzed in a scholarly way. Though the writing is superb and expressive, it’s also very high level and somewhat dense. I feel that makes this book overall less approachable to the layperson.

However, after reading Culture Warlords, would I want more primary examples of Lavin’s interactions? I’m not so sure. The summaries of recent news events, many of which flew under my radar but were a big deal on the dark web, made my lip curl in disgust and dismay. I just cannot fathom hating a group of people, namely Jews, so much that one desires their eradication.

I absolutely am not going to pretend I remember everything I read in this book. It explores and analyzes a lot of various topics under the umbrella of white supremacy. Some discussions stuck with me, though. For example, I don’t think I can look at the revival of Norse mythology in our culture, or anything related to the Crusades, through the same lens again. I was totally oblivious to the fact that these time periods/religion are romanticized as the origin story of Whiteness (religion, culture, fervor), to paraphrase broadly. That doesn’t mean every new Viking-related pop culture piece is tainted, but it’s something I’ll now keep in the back of my mind.

Because I don’t want to misrepresent Lavin’s excellent journalism, I’ll keep this review short. But this is a great book with which to engage to learn more about this topic. It is naturally evocative, but so is the nature of hate. The whole time I read this I couldn’t stop thinking about how awful Lavin must have felt working on this piece; she does, in fact, mention this in the Afterword. Fair warning that you need to be in a decent head space to read this.

Rating: 4/5
Content warnings: discussions about white supremacy, misogyny, anti-Semitism, racism, gun violence
Reading format: Library hardback

Book Review: Persist by Elizabeth Warren

Reading format: Hardback

Content warnings: sexism, racism, pandemic, 2020 elections

Rating: 4.5/5

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Persist by Elizabeth Warren is not a memoir about what went wrong or what she could have done differently during the 2020 presidential election season. Instead, Warren writes from six perspectives that influence her decisions, views, and advocacy. She writes as a mother, teacher, planner, fighter, learner, and woman. Through these different viewpoints Warren outlines what plans she feels our nation should implement to improve the lives of the American people.

Honestly, picking up a book written by yet another politician was the last thing I thought I’d reach for this year. But I was in my local bookstore and it just beckoned to me. It was a true impulse buy and I thought to myself, “I hope I don’t regret this purchase.” It sat in view for a few days and I just felt this pull towards it which I usually only feel for a fantasy books.

As soon as I opened it I knew I made the right choice. Warren’s energy reverberates throughout the entire book. She writes exactly how she talks, with conviction and positivity. Every time I sat down to read it I heard her voice in my head.

Admittedly, I didn’t read the book cover blurb before I bought it, so I thought I was going to read a memoir. But it was a pleasant surprise to read about her well thought out ideas (compared to many other politicians) to invoke change and to inspire action. I don’t know that it would have made a difference, but I wish she had published this book while she was on the campaign trail.

She writes about a variety of topics (childcare, health insurance, racism, climate change, women in the workforce, education), but her explanation of the wealth tax sticks out to me the most. I had no idea how much educational opportunity could be generated through the implementation of a wealth tax. For those unfamiliar with this idea, Warren’s health tax would apply for every dollar after the first $50 million: there would be a two cent tax for every dollar about $50 million and three cents for every dollar about $1 billion.

This tax would generated $275 billion per year. To put that into perspective, that’s enough money to give a $1 million grant to every public school in the country to improve their students’ education whether it be through a new science lab, better opportunities for special education, increased teacher pay, etc. My jaw dropped when I read that.

My jaw dropped more than once while reading Persist, actually, but don’t take my word for it! Check out this book yourself. I know, I grumbled about another political nonfiction book, too. But I’m really glad I gave this one a chance. I’m not sure how quickly change will happen, but I really appreciate Warren’s enthusiasm; it even made me a little less cynical, but I can tell just how much she believes in what she does. I’ve already recommended this to several friends. So give it a chance!

Product Details
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
Publish Date: May 4, 2021
Pages: 320
Type: Hardback

2021 First Quarter Book Haul

It’s hard to believe that the first quarter of 2021 has come to an end. Yet here we are! To mark this passage of time, I thought I’d share what books I bought during January to March. I usually borrow most of my books from the library for several reasons: I’m space-limited; I’m critical of what I read and don’t want to buy a book that I might not love; and I think it’s more environmentally friendly. I buy books when I feel confident I’ll really enjoy them, my library doesn’t have them, or I know I’ll want to refer back to them later. I didn’t include a couple of books that I bought after I borrowed them from my library. That said, here’s my recent book haul and their book cover summaries. These summaries are not my own.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

As a new age dawns on England’s twelfth century, the building of a mighty Gothic cathedral sets the stage for a story of intrigue and power, revenge and betrayal. It is in this rich tapestry, where kings and queens are corrupt, that the common man shows eternal promise–and one majestic creation will bond them forever….

Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy B. Tyson

On May 11, 1970, Henry Marrow, a twenty-three-year-old black veteran, walked into a crossroads store owned by Robert Teel and came out running. Teel and two of his sons chased and beat Marrow, then killed him in public as he pleaded for his life.

Like many small Southern towns, Oxford [North Carolina] had barely been touched by the civil rights movement. But in the wake of the killing, young African Americans took to the streets. While lawyers battled in the courthouse, the Klan ranged in the shadows and black Vietnam veterans torched the town’s tobacco warehouses. Tyson’s father, the pastor of Oxford’s all-white Methodist church, urged the town to come to terms with its bloody racial history. In the end, however, the Tyson family was forced to move away.

Tim Tyson’s riveting narrative of that fiery summer brings gritty blues truth, soaring gospel vision, and down-home humor to a shocking episode of our history. Like To Kill A Mockingbird, Blood Done Sign My Name is a classic portrait of an unforgettable time and place.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Widespread reporting on aspects of white supremacy — from police brutality to the mass incarceration of Black Americans — has put a media spotlight on racism in our society. Still, it is a difficult subject to talk about. How do you tell your roommate her jokes are racist? Why did your sister-in-law take umbrage when you asked to touch her hair — and how do you make it right? How do you explain white privilege to your white, privileged friend?

In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to “model minorities” in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Soldier. Summoner. Saint. Orphaned and expendable, Alina Starkov is a soldier who knows she may not survive her first trek across the Shadow Fold—a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. But when her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes dormant magic not even she knew she possessed.

Now Alina will enter a lavish world of royalty and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha, her country’s magical military elite—and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift.

As the threat to the kingdom mounts and Alina unlocks the secrets of her past, she will make a dangerous discovery that could threaten all she loves and the very future of a nation.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there–but many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, Jude must defy him–and face the consequences.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Holly Black comes the first book in a stunning trilogy filled with twists and enchantment, as one girl learns the meaning of true power.

On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal by Naomi Klein

For more than a decade, the acclaimed journalist and groundbreaking thinker has documented the movement of the climate crisis from future threat to burning emergency. She has been among the first to make the case for what is now called the Green New Deal–a vision for transforming our economies to battle climate breakdown and rampant inequality at the same time. In our era of rising seas and rising hate, she argues that only this kind of bold, roots-up action has a chance of rousing us to fight for our lives while there is still time.

These long-form essays, based on her extensive research and reporting, show Klein at her most prophetic and philosophical, investigating the climate crisis not only as a profound political challenge but as a spiritual and imaginative one as well. Delving into the clash between ecological time and our culture of “perpetual now,” the soaring history of rapid human change in the face of grave threats, rising white supremacy and fortressed borders as a form of “climate barbarism,” and more, this is a rousing call to transformation–and a dire warning about what awaits if we fail to act.

With dispatches from the ghostly Great Barrier Reef, to the smoke-choked skies of the Pacific Northwest, to post-hurricane Puerto Rico, and to a Vatican waking up to the case for radical change, Klein paints a vivid picture of both social and ecological breakdown–as well as the people and movements rising to turn humanity’s greatest disaster into our greatest opportunity.

Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone by Douglas W. Smith & Gary Ferguson

In Decade of the Wolf, project leader Douglas W. Smith and acclaimed nature writer Gary Ferguson describe the journey of thirty-one Canadian gray wolves that were released in 1995 and 1996 into Yellowstone National Park and the people who faithfully followed them. The wolves have not only survived but completely changed the ecosystem, spilling a fresh measure of wildness across the world’s first national park.

This updated edition includes additional wolf profiles, new information on the effects of climate change and disease, and a retrospective on what the scientists have learned during this extended study of the Yellowstone wolves.

A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas

Nesta Archeron has always been prickly-proud, swift to anger, and slow to forgive. And ever since being forced into the Cauldron and becoming High Fae against her will, she’s struggled to find a place for herself within the strange, deadly world she inhabits. Worse, she can’t seem to move past the horrors of the war with Hybern and all she lost in it.

The one person who ignites her temper more than any other is Cassian, the battle-scarred warrior whose position in Rhysand and Feyre’s Night Court keeps him constantly in Nesta’s orbit. But her temper isn’t the only thing Cassian ignites. The fire between them is undeniable, and only burns hotter as they are forced into close quarters with each other.

Meanwhile, the treacherous human queens who returned to the Continent during the last war have forged a dangerous new alliance, threatening the fragile peace that has settled over the realms. And the key to halting them might very well rely on Cassian and Nesta facing their haunting pasts.

Against the sweeping backdrop of a world seared by war and plagued with uncertainty, Nesta and Cassian battle monsters from within and without as they search for acceptance-and healing-in each other’s arms.

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