Late to holiday shopping? Still need a stocking stuffer? This list will, sort of, help. Here’s the 2022 Eduwonk Holiday Book list. This year we’ve got some education books and some general interest ones. And music, plus a musician’s children’s book.
Let’s start with the education books.
Depending who you ask we need a reckoning about policy choices and advocacy during the pandemic or we need an amnesty. I guess I’d settle for a forward-looking conversation that is not anchored in relitigating the politics of the pandemic. Kris Amundson’s Unfinished Learning is a step in that direction. Kris is a former elected Democrat in Virginia. But this is a book informed by an understanding of politics, it’s not a partisan book. Some sharp observations about how we got where we are.
The answer to a surprising number of questions about education is – you know who wrote a good book about that? Dan Willingham. UVA’s Willingham is well-regarded by reformers, by the AFT (he writes frequently for their house magazine) and in general. With good reason. His work is rigorous, accessible, and grounded in what the evidence says. He’s also a wonderful person. His new book Outsmart Your Brain isn’t aimed at wonks – it’s aimed at students and teachers. It’s a user-friendly how to about learning and growing. It can also help with focus – so in addition to high school and college students and their parents and teachers perhaps social media-addled wonks might want this in their stocking, too? Except, they can’t have it. I’m coming to you from a review copy. With an inexplicable Grinch-like release date you’ll have to wait until January to read it. But, you can pre-order now – a big help to authors and Willingham really is deserving – and perhaps leave a picture under the tree?
How many people get a Supreme Court case named after them? Especially a high profile and high impact one. From her time as state school chief in Ohio, Susan Zelman’s name is now shorthand for the legal basis for school choice programs that include parochial schools. Yet her new book, written with Margaret Sorenson, isn’t about that. Rather it’s a quick primer on major aspects of the education system and then an idea for a broad pluralistic vision of schooling. If the most wonderful time of the year for you includes thinking about a book to adopt for a course this is a great choice. And it would be useful as reading for any of the common ground initiatives now springing up around the sector.
When Richard Whitmire would write about the problems boys were having in school it was treated like a zero sum game – as though paying attention to the boys inevitably would mean less attention to girls or worse. I have daughters (Whitmire does, too) and can give you chapter and verse about some the BS that happens in schools. That doesn’t mean boys aren’t also facing serious issues. Brookings’ Richard Reeves new book Of Boys and Men makes clear we better pay attention to the problems faced by boys and men, especially those on the lower end of the economic ladder. I’m in a lot of conversations about equity, or structural inequality, or diversity and inclusion and the data and analysis Reeves presents rarely shows up. That’s a problem.
More general interest:
To date (and hopefully for some time to come….) Grover Cleveland is the only U.S. President to serve non-consecutive terms. When people asked what I was reading and I said a really interesting biography of Grover Cleveland it usually occasioned a, ‘wait what?’ or ‘that’s funny but seriously…?’ It’s true! In Man of Iron Troy Senik delivers an engaging account of Cleveland’s life and improbable rise to the pinnacle of American politics. It’s about the politics of a different era but a good reminder that not everything we consider unprecedented is.
A lot of people have an older relative or know someone who was born a few decades too early and lived a more constrained life than they might today because of how LGBT Americans were forced to live for a long time. James Kirchick’s Secret City does double duty. It’s a gossipy and interesting glimpse into a thankfully vanishing part of the American experience – life in a closeted era. And it’s a fascinating history of Washington, D.C. Most of all, it’s a good reminder of the lost potential when freedom takes a backseat.
There is an annoying quality to America’s gun debate where the views of people who don’t appreciate why something is called a suppressor rather than a silencer or don’t get the difference between .22 and .223 are dismissed as illegitimate. Sort of an expertise gatekeeping. At the same time a lot of people do seem not to appreciate why a lot of Americans, who also are horrified by gun violence, nonetheless seek firearms out as a tool, a hobby, or a sporting pursuit. In Gun Barons, John Bainbridge Jr. takes a lively look at the men behind iconic firearms that defined an era and echo into ours. The names some Americans revere today and others revile – Winchester, Remington, or Smith and Wesson – were real people who invented and profited mightily from innovations in firearms. Even if you don’t care to know a clip from a magazine or a cartridge from a bullet it’s the history of an era not just of firearms. And perhaps a bit of common ground to inform our “what now?” conversation about guns in 2022.
Finally, some music notes: Regular readers know that I think the last decade produced two genuine musical geniuses Rhiannon Giddens and Sturgill Simpson. Fight me Swifties. Giddens’ entire catalog is music a music lover will enjoy exploring. She’s emerged as an essential chronicler of the roots music tradition as well. And she has a children’s book out this year.
Simpson, who ranges across genres, spent the pandemic returning to his roots. His catalog is hard to describe, just listen. He and Steven Colbert showed up in Greenland recently and he produced Brit Taylor’s forthcoming album.
Finally, Tedeschi Trucks Band might be the best live act on the road right now. Especially this time of year when they’re playing smaller theaters rather than big outdoor venues. Their new concept album, I Am The Moon, is based on a 12th-Century Persian poem and at four albums is an epic undertaking and would make an amazing gift. It’s available in a few formats, I have the vinyl and recommend.
Still not finding what you want, here are past year’s lists.