Posts tagged 'nonfiction'

Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Operation of a Lifetime, by Ron Stallworth

Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth

        In the summer of 1978, Ron Stallworth was an undercover detective working with the narcotics division of the Colorado Springs police department when he came across a Ku Klux Klan recruitment ad in a local newspaper. Part of his job was to collect intelligence concerning possible criminal activity, and the Klan were known to terrorize communities and incite violence, so he responded to the ad with a letter, posing as a fellow racist. A few days later, he received a call from a local Klan organizer eager to recruit him. Stallworth immediately recognized that this was a unique opportunity to collect intelligence on the Klan from the inside and agreed to an in-person meeting. There was just one problem – Stallworth is African-American, and in his haste to seize the moment, he had used his real name instead of an alias.

        What followed was an unorthodox investigation into the heart of one of America’s most notorious hate groups. Stallworth describes the careful process by which he managed to gain access to the Klan’s inner circle through phone conversations and in-person meetings (at which a white colleague wearing a wire posed as “Ron Stallworth”). His actions, decisions, and even missteps and close calls during the case are all discussed with the gravitas and candor of a seasoned police officer.

        This is not to say that Stallworth’s account is dry or impersonal – in fact, quite the opposite. Integral to the story is not just what Stallworth did, but who he was. He takes special care to discuss his background growing up during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Despite never coming across as boastful or vindictive, he deftly expresses the schadenfreude of peeking under the hood of terrorism and finding that the person under it is demonstratively ignorant and clueless – “…as if Dennis the Menace were running a hate group.”      

true crime  race relations  nonfiction  Justin Picks


Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber

In 2013, London School of Economics professor David Graeber wrote an editorial for an obscure leftist online magazine entitled “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs.” In it, Graeber hypothesized that huge swaths of employment are bullshit. Even though we’re obligated to pretend otherwise, these jobs don’t provide any discernible benefit to society, and there would be no difference if they simply vanished. If all nurses or trash collectors disappeared overnight, the effects would be dire and dramatic, but could we really say the same of telemarketers or middle managers? The article went viral, crashed the website, and was translated into at least a dozen languages. Hundreds of readers, some angry and others empathetic, replied. The article inspired polling agencies to conduct studies, which found that around 40% of workers responding believed they had bullshit jobs. Bullshit Jobs: A Theory expands on Graeber’s initial article, and aims to draw attention to what he considers “the biggest problem in the world that nobody is talking about.”

What are some examples of bullshit jobs? (In the section that will make you laugh to keep from crying, Graeber uses the testimonies from the hundreds of working stiffs who wrote him following his initial essay to create a taxonomy of bullshit jobs. The taxonomy includes “flunkies,” who exist to make other people seem more important, and “duct tapers,” who fix superficial problems rather than treat underlying causes.) Aren’t these types of jobs not supposed to exist in a capitalist society? Why do people who work bullshit jobs report feelings of misery, even when conditions are cushy and the compensation is generous? How did bullshit jobs proliferate, and why do we, as a society, not object to the proliferation? And finally, what (if anything) can be done about the situation? Graeber draws on economic, political, social, moral, and psychological theories to explore these questions.

Anyone who works (or has worked) a bullshit job should read this book. Anyone who thinks the invisible hand of the market can do no wrong should read this book. Anyone who is looking for alternatives to doing things the way they’re done because “we’ve always done it that way” should read this book. Graeber’s vision of employment is dim, but there may be light at the end of the tunnel of drudgery.

nonfiction  Jake Picks  economics