Dum’s scholarly apparatus is on full display, which will please specialists but should not deter general readers. His...

READ REVIEW

EXILED IN AMERICA

LIFE ON THE MARGINS IN A RESIDENTIAL MOTEL

Dum (Sociology/Kent State Univ.) debuts with an ethnographic study of a year in the life of a residential motel.

In this revealing, rigorously academic work, the author tells the stories of “social refugees”—marginalized people including the mentally ill, disabled individuals, addicts, and registered sex offenders—living in the Boardwalk Motel, a squalid two-story building located in pseudonymous Dutchland, an affluent white suburban community. Some townspeople call Boardwalk “the pedophile motel.” For residents, arriving from prisons, shelters, and the back seats of cars, it is “a location of last resort for poor individuals in search of affordable housing.” With great courage and empathy, Dum rented a room, hung out in this “dumping ground for those deemed socially unacceptable,” and befriended many residents, observing their daily struggles to survive in a culture centered on substance abuse. He takes pains to describe the stigma and stereotype facing residents; local critics ultimately succeeded in “sanitizing,” or closing, the motel over code violations. “The stigma of the motel was so blinding that they were unable to see residents as human beings,” writes Dum. By giving voice to the residents, the author allows readers to understand their humanity and their surprisingly vibrant culture, with its many moments of sharing, caring, and community. Dum describes the motel’s underground economy, the sometimes strained relations between residents, and how some individuals created unique identities: one man, working on scrap metal in his room, considered himself an entrepreneur; a couple referred to their room as a studio apartment. The author places the painful experiences of these residents in the larger societal context: rising rates of incarceration, foreclosures, evictions, and homelessness have in recent years turned many nonchain motels into shelters for the marginalized.

Dum’s scholarly apparatus is on full display, which will please specialists but should not deter general readers. His exceptional view of what’s happening to the weakest among us deserves a place on the same shelf with Matthew Desmond’s groundbreaking book Evicted (2016).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-231-17642-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

FRONT ROW AT THE TRUMP SHOW

The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

more