Books

It's All About the Money

How America became preoccupied with higher education’s bottom line.  

AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner A student in line for his diploma wears a cap decorated with the cost of his education during graduation ceremonies at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, May 16, 2015. T his is a pivotal moment in American higher education—a crisis, you might say, if the term hadn’t been debased by overuse. The criticisms come from every corner and the bill of particulars is lengthy. The financial cost gets most of the attention. Since 1980, tuition has more than doubled at private universities and tripled at public institutions. Students have accumulated more than $1.2 trillion in debt, $300 million more than what Americans owe credit card companies. For-profit schools enroll about an eighth of all college students, many of whom end up saddled with mountainous debts and worthless degrees. Students from poor families have it especially rough. Half of all 25-year-olds from well-off families, but just a tenth of all 25-year-olds from poor families, have a bachelor’s degree...

How the Bankers Destroyed the Dream

The mortgage collapse was an entirely avoidable crisis—a brew of elite financial lobbying and bad policy. 

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file
(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file) In this May 28, 2009 file photo, a foreclosed home is shown in Mountain View, Calif. More than 13 percent of American homeowners with a mortgage are either behind on their payments or in foreclosure as the recession throws more people out of work, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009. Other People's Houses: How Decades of Bailouts, Captive Regulators, and Toxic Bankers Made Home Mortgages a Thrilling Business By Jennifer Taub 416 pp. Yale University Press $30 I n the early 2000s, the media regularly turned to David Lereah, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. He provided consistently optimistic predictions about rising housing prices and labeled those who disagreed a “Chicken Little.” In 2006, at the peak of the housing bubble, he published a book entitled Why the Real Estate Boom Will Not Bust—And How You Can Profit from It . Within a year, the housing bubble popped. Between 2006 and 2012, housing prices...

Piety and Politics in America

The tension between religiosity and secular government goes back to the nation’s founding.  

AP Photo
AP Photo Evangelist Billy Graham, second from right, kneels in prayer on the White House Lawn July 14,1950 with three friends, asking divine aid for President Truman in his handling of the Korean crisis. Graham had just finished a meeting with the President. With him are, left to right, Jerry Beavan, Clifford Barrows and Grady Wilson. This book review appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . Celebrate our 25th Anniversary with us by clicking here for a free download of this special issue . One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America By Kevin M. Kruse 384 pp. Basic Books $29.99 The Religion of Democracy: Seven Liberals and the American Moral Tradition By Amy Kittelstrom 448 pp. Penguin Press $32.95 W hen I speak on college campuses and tell students that the United States Constitution makes no mention of God, at least half of the audience members invariably shake their heads in disbelief. It usually turns out that...

The Real Story of the American Family

Two new books explain how rising inequality shattered the working-class family of the mid-20th century.

CSA Plastock/iStock
CSA Plastock/iStock This book review appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . Celebrate our 25th Anniversary with us by clicking here for a free download of this special issue . L abor's Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America By Andrew J. Cherlin 272 pp. Russell Sage Foundation $35 Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis By Robert D. Putnam 400 pp. Berrett-Koehler Publishers $28 D uring the culture wars of the 1970s and 1980s, conservative crusaders worried about threats to “traditional” families stemming from both the top and the bottom of the social ladder. In the name of “family values,” they denounced educated elites for denigrating marriage, endorsing premarital sex and cohabitation, and refusing to get judgmental about divorce and unwed motherhood. The “do-your-own-thing” individualism of such people, they claimed, was bad enough for spoiled middle-class children, but threatened disaster when it seeped down...

When the Student Movement Was a CIA Front

Bob Wands
Bob Wands/AP Images Gloria Steinem went from willing CIA accomplice to feminist icon. This book review appears in the Winter 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . Patriotic Betrayal: The Inside Story of the CIA's Secret Campaign to Enroll American Students in the Crusade Against Communism By Karen M. Paget 552 pp. Yale University Press $35 I n its March 1967 issue, Ramparts, a glossy West Coast muckraking periodical that expired in 1975, and that strongly opposed American involvement in the war in Vietnam, published an exposé of the close relationship between the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Student Association. This other NSA—not to be confused with the National Security Agency—was then the leading American organization representing college students, with branches on about 400 campuses. Its ties with the CIA were formed in the early years of both institutions following World War II, as the Cold War was getting under way. According to Ramparts...

Today's GOP: The Party of Jefferson Davis -- Not Lincoln

(Photo: Mathew Brady [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
(Photo: Mathew Brady [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons) Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, as captured by photographer Mathew Brady in 1861. This essay originally appeared in The Washington Post . O ne hundred and fifty years ago Thursday, after Union infantry effectively encircled the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee sent a note to Ulysses S. Grant proposing a meeting to discuss terms of surrender. With that, the Civil War began to end. And at some point in the future, it may yet. The emancipation of the slaves that accompanied the North’s victory ushered in, as Abraham Lincoln had hoped, a new birth of freedom, but the old order also managed to adapt itself to the new circumstances. The subjugation of and violence against African Americans continued apace, particularly after U.S. Army troops withdrew from the South at the end of Reconstruction. Black voting was suppressed. The Southern labor system retained, in altered form, its most distinctive...

Historian as History-Maker: Isabel Wilkerson Calls All of America to Account for Racial Injustice

The acclaimed author of The Warmth of Other Suns is not about to let the North off the hook. A conversation with the chronicler of the Great Migration.

(Photo: Joe Henson)
(Photo: Joe Henson) Isabel Wilkerson, author of the award-winning book, The Warmth of Other Suns , the story of the Great Migration of African Americans to the North. T his summer, Ta-Nehisi Coates published a compelling argument for reparations in The Atlantic . This nation, he argued, has inherited a debt. We ought to repay the community that we as a nation have hurt most. In its entirety, the headline read: The Case for Reparations : Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. The idea? You can stop slavery, you can stop Jim Crow, you can stop discriminatory housing policies, but it doesn’t stop the bleeding. And the first step to healing is reparations. The idea of reparations for African Americans once had credibility, but in recent decades the notion has been scoffed at. Reparations are thought to be...

What Women Need

Can women translate symbolic victories into durable progress on multiple fronts, from financial status to physical safety?

(Oxford University Press)
This book review is from the Fall 2014 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here. What Women Want: An Agenda for the Women's Movement By Deborah L. Rhode 256 pp. Oxford University Press $29.95 I n 2012, the young singer Taylor Swift was asked if she was a feminist. “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls,” she responded. “I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.” Two years later, in an interview with The Guardian , Swift recanted: “As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men.” Swift wasn’t wrong that feminism is stigmatized, but by pop-culture standards, her turnaround came late. Another superstar, Beyoncé, had long since gone from hedging on feminism to embracing it. At roughly the...

A Talent for Storytelling

Rick Perlstein tells how Reagan imagined his way into the American psyche.

(AP Photo)
This book review is from the Fall 2014 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here. Simon & Schuster The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan By Rick Perlstein 880 pp. Simon & Schuster $37.50 I n 1959, as the Cold War heated up and the economy cooled down, President Dwight Eisenhower received a letter from World War II veteran Robert J. Biggs. Tired of hearing the president explain the complexities of the modern world, Biggs begged Eisenhower to lead the nation with firm assertions rather than “hedging” and “uncertainty.” The former general responded that such guidance by authority was imperative in a military operation but fatal in a democracy. Self-government demanded that men reject easy answers and instead carefully weigh the often contradictory facts about great issues facing the nation. Just as Eisenhower did, Rick Perlstein’s new book, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan , illuminates the deadly attraction of...

The End of the Lavender Ghetto

As gays and lesbians gain acceptance, they are moving away from the old neighborhoods that long epitomized gay culture.

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
(AP Photo/Eric Risberg) Eliza Galimba, 16, holds up a sign while watching the 44th annual San Francisco Gay Pride parade Sunday, June 29, 2014, in San Francisco. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender celebration and parade is one of the largest LGBT gatherings in the nation. This book review is from the Fall 2014 issue of The American Prospect magazine. There Goes the Gayborhood? By Amin Ghaziani 360 pp. Princeton University Press $35 F or nearly half a century, San Francisco’s Castro district has been the gay Mecca, and from every corner of the globe LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) tourists have made the pilgrimage. They came to party, and many wound up staying. The rainbow flag was first flown there. The annual Gay Pride parade and Halloween party were red-letter days on the LGBT calendar. Gay tourists still throng the Castro, and tour buses continue to bring gawking tourists, but the neighborhood isn’t what it used to be. Lesbians and gays are moving out, the...

Red State, Blue State: Polarization and the American Situation

The country is stuck but it is not stationary. Some things are changing—just not at the federal level.

(Map: Angr/Wikimedia Commons; Flag: AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip) A racing fan waves an American flag as they wait for the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix auto race at the Circuit of the Americas, Sunday, November 2, 2014, in Austin, Texas. This article appears under the title "The American Situation" in the Fall 2014 issue of The American Prospect magazine. A merica, it seems, is stuck—unable to make significant progress on critical issues such as climate change, rising economic inequality, and immigration. To explain that inaction, people often point to political polarization. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, are now so sharply opposed to each other that they are unable to find common ground. But while the country is stuck, it is not stationary. Some things are changing; it’s just not at the federal level that the changes are emerging. Polarization leads to stalemate only under certain circumstances—when the two sides in a conflict are closely balanced, and political institutions and procedures (such...

Still Nader After All These Years

(AP Photo/George Ruhe, File)
(AP Photo/George Ruhe, File) In this April 27, 2008, file photo, Ralph Nader speaks to supporters as he campaigns for his 2008 independent presidential bid in Waterbury, Connecticut. F or many Democrats who came of age after 2000, Ralph Nader is a crank who cost Al Gore the presidency. But Nader deserves a more honored place in the progressive pantheon. Over the years, Nader has understood the stranglehold of corporate power on democracy as well as anyone, and throughout his career he has creatively organized counterweights. In the heyday of postwar reform, the 1960s and 1970s, Nader-inspired groups prodded and energized Congressional allies to enact one piece of pro-consumer legislation after another. As both a journalist and senior Senate staffer in that era, I can attest that nobody did it better than Nader. Since then, Nader has been a prophet, often without honor in his own coalition. I should add that I go back a long way with Ralph Nader. When I was in Washington, D.C., in the...

How Did Racist Right-Wing Fantasy Presented as Truth Come to Top the New York Times Bestseller List?

Calling African Americans "culturally backward" and arguing against the public accommodations section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Dinesh D'Souza soars to the top of the chart.

http://www.dineshdsouza.com/
This article originally appeared at Right Wing Watch , the blog of People For the American Way. T his week Dinesh D’Souza’s America: Imagine the World Without Her is sitting at the top of the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list . Earlier this month, the movie version crossed the $14 million mark , which moved it into six place overall for earnings by a political “documentary.” But D’Souza is not just out to make money, of course. At a June screening of America , right-wing strategist Ralph Reed called D’Souza “a national treasure for our cause.” D’Souza’s last movie, 2016: Obama’s America , was designed to keep Barack Obama from being re-elected. America is his attempt to prevent Hillary Clinton from being elected in 2016, wrapped in an attack on the progressive movement. At a time when corporate power and profits are at record highs, America the movie argues that America the country is being led down the road to national “suicide” and socialist tyranny in a plan that was...

A Question of Character: Craig Shirley's Scurrilous Attack on Liberal Historian Rick Perlstein

An assault on the character of a progressive intellectual invites an assessment of the attacker's character—not to mention his client list.

(craigshirley.com)
CraigShirley.com Craig Shirley of the public relations firm Shirley & Banister, whose clients have included Sarah Palin, Dinesh D'Souza, Ann Coulter and Newt Gingrich. I n a recent article about attacks on the character of historian Rick Perlstein, the New York Times dropped the ball of responsible journalism by giving equal weight to the claims of the attacker and the defense mounted by the attacked. So says the paper’s public editor , Margaret Sullivan: It’s as if The Times is saying: Here’s an accusation; here’s a denial; and, heck, we don’t really know. We’re staying out of it. Readers frequently complain to me about this he said, she said false equivalency — and for good reason. The incendiary charge against Perlstein, author of Invisible Bridge , the much-heralded book about the years leading up to the presidency of Ronald Reagan, was that of plagiarism, made by Craig Shirley, who would doubtless prefer to be credited as the author of his Reagan biographies, Rendezvous With...

Searching for the Next Great Conservative Novel

Lots of room on this shelf. (Flickr/Luis Guillermo Pineda Rodas)
Conservatives often complain that the machinery of entertainment and popular culture is controlled by liberals, which is basically true. So periodically, one of them tries to encourage the rest to get behind a project to produce a right-wing culture, to get conservative ideas into the collective consciousness in more subtle and lasting ways than another "Why Liberals Are Destroying America" book from Ann Coulter or Brent Bozell. The latest of these pleas is an essay by publisher Adam Bellow in the National Review , which has the distinction of offering fiction, in the form of books(!), as the most important means of doing so. While the essay is overwrought at many points and self-contradictory at others (he says of the left, "Political power eludes them," then later laments their "decades-long march through the institutions of government, academia, and popular culture"), Bellow makes some interesting points even as, I think, he shows why this is such an uphill climb for his...

Pages