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Field Notes

Staff Reading List: Books to Broaden Your Perspective

October 29, 2019
The Root Cause team continues to seek out resources that expand our view of the systems we work within and the experiences of others. The Root Cause team has come together to discuss two books this year: Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.
This list compiles other titles that the Root Cause team recommends for expanding your view on equity, education, and economic mobility, among other topics. Find your local bookseller here at Indie Bound and mark off each month with a fascinating new read.


Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy is a powerful account of a young lawyer’s coming of age as he defends one of his first cases: Walter McMillian, a man sentenced to death for a murder he says he didn’t commit. As founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson brings to light the brutal truth of the issues facing the poor and the wrongly condemned.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Although Southern state and local laws enforcing racial segregation have been overturned by national legislation, Michelle Alexander presents mass incarceration as The New Jim Crow. With millions of African Americans and other minority populations locked behind bars and denied of their civil and human rights, they become imprisoned by discrimination and the cycle of poverty. Alexander brings to light the ever-prevalent consequences of the War on Drugs and the discrimination of those with a criminal record with this modern system of racial control.

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

Jeff Hobbs shares a captivating account of the life of his college roommate, Robert Peace. Growing up outside of Newark, Peace was challenged to balance life as a tough street kid and an intellectual private school student, but he never quite took full comfort in either identity. His academic determination earned him a full ride to Yale, where he excelled at molecular biology. After graduation, he returned to Newark to teach at his Catholic high school but was forced into the drug trade for economic stability. Hobbs’ account of a man between two worlds epitomizes the obstacles in place for millions trying to navigate multiple cultures.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

In this compelling novel, we follow Starr Carter as she navigates life after witnessing the fatal shooting of her best friend Khalil by a police officer. Soon after, unarmed Khalil becomes a national headline and Starr is the only one that knows what truly happened at the scene. Protestors, intimidating cops, and local drug lords enter into Starr’s life, endangering her community and her family. Angie Thomas leaves us considering the implications of systemic racism, gun violence, and poverty in society today, especially among youth.

Education and Child Development

The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity by Nadine Burke Harris

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris reveals the shocking truth of how childhood stress can results in serious lifelong health problems. Through a cumulation of storytelling, scientific explanations, and a study of over 17,000 patients, The Deepest Well displays how Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)—such as abuse, neglect, parental addiction or mental illness—change our biological system and increase our risk of disease, while introducing practices that can help to prevent this process.

Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo

As a teacher moving into a severely poor and segregated town in the Mississippi Delta, Michelle Kuo quickly recognizes the adversity so many of her students face. Kuo allows a quiet student, Patrick, to flourish under her attention until she leaves the area to pursue a law degree. Years later while watching the news, she hears that Patrick has been charged with murder and immediately moves back to spend the next seven months reading, analyzing, and critiquing classical literature with Patrick in the visiting room of the county jail. The power of this relationship transforms both individuals and brings to light questions of economic and racial inequality and issues of incarceration in America.

Economic Mobility

Janesville by Amy Goldstein

Amy Goldstein spent years engrossed in Janesville, Wisconsin—an industrial town still suffering from the shutdown of General Motors’ oldest national plant during the Great Recession. Digging deep into the lives of the hard working population of Janesville, she reveals the ongoing struggle Americans are facing to rebuild a successful working class.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Desmond takes us into the lives of eight families in the poorest areas of Milwaukee that are on the edge of eviction, even when spending almost everything they earn on rent. This novel details the increasing issue of affordable housing and economic exploitation and provides new solutions to this distressing American obstacle.

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild

A renowned sociologist, Arlie Hochschild, travels outside of her liberal homestead of Berkeley, California to the bayou of Louisiana, where she meets with communities to better understand why they seemed to vote against their own interests in the 2016 election. She implements her knowledge of the sociology of emotions to gain an understanding of why people that would seem to benefit from a “liberal” government’s help are averse to it.

Strategies for Change

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas

To what extent will the elite and wealthy strive to be good Samaritans fighting for equality if it endangers their ranking on top? Giridharadas examines how  wealthy individuals define themselves as changemakers and campaign to do good but are simultaneously oblivious to the harm they or their organizations contribute to in the world. Winners Take All forces us to question our systemic approaches to change and consider how to build equitable institutions for the future.

Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown

The strategy to change is to be aware of the constant transformations happening around us in every moment. In this radical self- and society-help book, brown inspires readers to build a tool kit of skills for self-change in order to establish a base to create positive change in the world. Based equally on science and science fiction, you will consider your surroundings and your position in society in a whole new way after reading Emergent Strategy.

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