The Common Good

In the Stacks, September 11, 2012

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. 

Photo by Tischenko Irina/
Photo by Tischenko Irina/

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Here are my picks of this week’s books.

“Representing the Race:”

The creation of the Civil Rights lawyer.

By Kenneth W. Mack, reviewed by David J. Garrow

For the past four decades, the story of Thurgood Marshall, the African American civil rights lawyer who successfully argued Brown v. Board of Education in the early 1950s and then became the Supreme Court’s first black justice in 1967, has encapsulated our understanding of how racial segregation was vanquished from American life. Richard Kluger’s “Simple Justice” (1976), one of the finest nonfiction books ever written, memorialized that saga with a factual sweep and emotional power that few works of history ever capture.

Now Kenneth W. Mack, a Harvard law professor, fundamentally supplants that heroic account of the segregation-to-integration struggle that Marshall and others “planted as the core narrative of American race relations” by means of “a collective biography” of the African American lawyers — Marshall included — whose “intersecting lives” encompassed the legal assault on racial discrimination from the late 19th century through the 1950s.

“Little America

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Reviewed by Linda Robinson

Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports on America’s involvement in Afghanistan.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran has done it again. Like “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” his chronicle of Washington’s hapless management of the Iraq war in its early days, “Little America” is a beautifully written and deeply reported account of how a divided United States government and its dysfunctional bureaucracy have foiled American efforts abroad, this time to suppress the Taliban insurgency and bring stability to Afghanistan. It tells a story of political foibles, overly ambitious goals and feckless Afghans and Americans. The United States seems condemned to lurch between disastrous quick fixes and unrealistic visions of remaking countries overnight in its own image, never finding a middle road. No doubt most readers of this book will come away with the conclusion that our principal enemy in all this is ourselves.

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