Books to Help You Understand the News

Indie Books Worth a Read

Keeping up with current events can be tough, but luckily there is a wealth of resources out there to help savvy readers deepen their knowledge on any topic. The below indie books will give you new insight into some complex issues. 

Happy reading!


As Ohio Goes: Life in the Post-Recession Nation, by Rana B. Khoury (Kent State University Press)

"Politics today seem more divided than ever before. Think pieces and articles analyzing data are in abundance. As Ohio Goes puts names and proverbial faces (though actual faces might have been nice) to the political turmoil. From cities to the countryside, Rana Khoury talks to the people of one the nation's most economically troubled yet influential states. This is an interesting read that takes you beyond the headlines and magazine articles."

- Amy Shamroe


American Surveillance: Intelligence, Privacy, and the Fourth Amendment, by Anthony Gregory (University of Wisconsin Press)

"To defend its citizens from harm, must the government have unfettered access to all information? Or, must personal privacy be defended at all costs from the encroachment of a surveillance state? And, doesn’t the Constitution already protect us from such intrusions? When the topic of discussion is intelligence-gathering, privacy, or Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, the result is usually more heat than light.
Anthony Gregory challenges such simplifications, offering a nuanced history and analysis of these difficult issues. He highlights the complexity of the relationship between the gathering of intelligence for national security and countervailing efforts to safeguard individual privacy. The Fourth Amendment prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures offers no panacea, he finds, in combating assaults on privacy—whether by the NSA, the FBI, local police, or more mundane administrative agencies. Given the growth of technology, together with the ambiguities and practical problems of enforcing the Fourth Amendment, advocates for privacy protections need to work on multiple policy fronts."

- from the Amazon description


Painting by Numbers: How to sharpen your BS detector and smoke out the "experts", by Jason Makansi (Layla Dog Press)

"While As Ohio Goes focuses on the people at the heart of data, Painting by Numbers offers a practical approach to navigating numbers and statistics. Anecdotal experience resonates. Data is cold and can be manipulated. Jason Makansi offers an accessible and comprehensive guide for anyone who wants to deal in facts but also wants to understand where those facts come from. He cuts through the smoke and mirrors to teach readers how to spot the good from the dubious. "

- Amy Shamroe


Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America's Largest Criminal Court, by Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve (Stanford University Presss)

"Police relations with communities have been scrutinized more and more in the media and through activist movements in recent years. As a result, our criminal courts and staggering incarceration rates are being examined as well. Based on years of observation and investigation, Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve uses Chicago-Cook County as a study of the faults in our venerated justice system. Don't pick this up expecting to find the heroes of your favorite Law & Order franchise, as Crook County does not sugar coat the mechanizations that allow for poor minorities to receive anything but a fair trial."

- Amy Shamroe


ISIS: A History, by Fawaz A. Gerges (Princeton University Press)

"For those not closely following the regional politics and social movements of the Middle East, the rise of ISIS seemed swift, unexpected, and savage. And while journalists have done excellent work at reporting on the Islamic State’s brutal regime and its appeal for recruits, a deeper and more nuanced historical look has been missing. Fawaz Gerges’ ISIS: A History is a crucial read for understanding the conflict, especially for those who have no prior knowledge with which to contextualize the rise of ISIS. Using his deep insight into the region, Gerges explains the unique set of circumstances that birthed ISIS, including failures on the part of Western leadership to stop its rise in early days."

- Lauren White


America Abandoned: The Secret Velvet Coup That Cost Us Our Democracy, by Jill Cody (Writing Endeavors)

"The American people have been abandoned. Behemoth corporations, the disgustingly rich, the media, Congress, and the Supreme Court have withdrawn their support from 'We, the People', in spite of their duty, allegiance, or responsibility to American citizens.
Billionaires and corporations are flourishing as they abandon loyalty to employees and American citizens. The same wealthy people and corporations are hoarding billions of dollars offshore to avoid paying taxes while privatizing their profits and subsidizing their losses. By doing so, they are intentionally abandoning their civic responsibility for the obscene accumulation of profit, and are impeding the government's ability to serve the public good." 

- from the Amazon description


Chasing Utopia: The Future of the Kibbutz in a Divided Israel, by David Leach (ECW Press)

"David Leach’s look into the kibbutz communes of Israel is a powerful read, and an excellent way to take a fresh look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Driven by a break-up, Leach winds up seeking the paradise of a communal work farm in Israel, chasing his own utopia. His subsequent experiences provide him with a special insight into the war-torn region, despite his claim that he is also outside, a westerner looking in. The personal tone of the book - peppered with humor, anecdotes, and striking characters - does not impede Leach from maintaining a distance and neutrality that is much needed in discussions of this conflict. This account of the decline of kibbutzes is a great read to deepen your understanding of Israel."

- Lauren White


Catching Homelessness: A Nurse's Story of Falling Through the Safety Net, by Josephine Ensign (She Writes Press) 

"Homelessness in America is a surprisingly divisive issue. There is a sentiment among many, born out by studies and polling, that the poor and homeless only have themselves to blame for their circumstances. At the same time, over the last twenty years income volatility has gone up by 30% putting more Americans one paycheck, or one disaster, away from poverty. Over the same period, drastic cuts to America's mental health system have created a crisis of another kind. In Catching Homelessness, Josephine Ensign tells her story of first treating the homeless in the South as a nurse to becoming homeless herself. This memoir not only examines Ensign's experience, but also dives into the financial and social implications of how America deals with the issue of homelessness. This is a fascinating read that is also a great primer for those unfamiliar with the aggravating and complicated system people work within to help those who need it the most. "

- Amy Shamroe