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Truthdig's Top 10 Original Book Reviews of 2017

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Each Friday this year, Truthdig published a book review. Our original reviews covered the best of nonfiction, from incendiary biographies to raw memoirs, and fiction, from short story collections to moving graphic novels.

But all of our most popular reviews of 2017, with one exception, were of nonfiction books and reflected the stark political realities of the year. As dire headlines about climate change, racial inequality, immigration and health care dominated the news, readers turned to books for answers—and trusted Truthdig’s reviews to guide them.

Below, check out our top 10 book reviews from 2017.

10. Living in the Shadows
“In the Fields of the North/ En los Campos del Norte,” a book by David Bacon, reviewed by Paul Von Blum

Von Blum won a Los Angeles Press Club National Arts and Journalism Award for his review of Bacon’s bilingual fusion of journalism and documentary photography. Bacon, Von Blum writes, “offers both a dramatic antidote to the deplorable reality of racism and a majestic life-affirming view of these hidden women, men and children” who work America’s farms. Read the complete review here and purchase the book here.

9. Life in the Poorest Parts of America Is Not All ‘Urban Carnage’
“Blind to Injustice: How I Learned to See From Eight Years on the Streets With the LAPD and the People,” a book by Wellford (Buzz) Wilms, reviewed by Bill Boyarsky

Boyarsky, who worked the streets of Los Angeles as a reporter for many years, says Wilms’ account “of tragedy, gang violence and occasional hope” in South Los Angeles “reveals the multilayered complexity of the poorest parts of urban America.” Read the complete review here. The book will be published next year.

8. Soldiers of Peace
“Soldiers of Peace: How to Wield the Weapon of Nonviolence With Maximum Force,” a book by Paul K. Chappell, reviewed by H. Patricia Hynes

In a year in which many feared imminent war, it’s no wonder a book focused on nonviolence would resonate with readers. Chappell, Hynes writes, offers “a strategic and skillful path to radical empathy with fellow humans, within community and in society,” drawing on his education at West Point and knowledge of Greek mythology. Read the complete review here and purchase the book here.

7. Teeth
“Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America,” a book by Mary Otto, reviewed by Paul Von Blum

Another major story in 2017: health care. Otto’s detailed analysis shows how oral health is collapsing in America and, as Von Blum writes, is “far below the standard for any civilized society.” “Otto extensively examines some reforms that could begin to address the serious oral problems affecting millions in the early 21st century,” the reviewer concludes, but “little of this matters in a nation that still refuses to acknowledge health care as a fundamental human right.” Read the complete review here and purchase the book here.

6. Draw Your Weapon!
“The Realist Cartoons,” collection of comics from The Realist periodical, edited by Paul Krassner, reviewed by Mr. Fish

Who better than Truthdig cartoonist Mr. Fish to review a collection of cartoons from “The Realist,” a provocative, satirical periodical that ran from 1958 to 2001? “More than simply a collection of cartoons,” Fish writes, ‘The Realist Cartoons’ is an instruction manual for those wishing to learn how to speak bravely and frankly about race, sex, war, peace, abortion, doomsday, environmentalism, free speech, civil rights, homosexuality, human rights, human wrongs, love, hate and obscenity—to learn, that is, by exquisite example.” Read the complete review here and purchase the book here.

5. The Nixon Effect, The Money Cult, Ratf**ked
“The Nixon Effect: How Richard Nixon’s Presidency Fundamentally Changed American Politics,” a book by Douglas E. Schoen; “The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream,” a book by Chris Lehmann; “Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy,” a book by David Daley, all reviewed by Allen Barra

In this three-for-one review, Barra focuses on the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. What do the “Nixon Effect,” evangelical Christians and REDMAP have to do with one another? Read Barra’s full review to find out. Purchase “The Nixon Effect” here, “The Money Cult” here and “Ratf**ked” here.

4. The Violent American Century
“The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II,” a book by John Dower, reviewed by H. Patricia Hynes 

Dower, a historian, asks how the U.S., a top global military superpower and largest weapons trader, can remain a beacon of democratic ideals in this nonfiction book. “Dower has written a much-needed correction to mainstream American history texts and a bracing challenge to the trope of American exceptionalism,” Hynes states. “Its case for American military muscularity at the expense of democracy and world peace is unassailable.” Read the complete review here and purchase the book here.

3. Policing the Black Man
“Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment,” a book of essays edited by Angela J. Davis, reviewed by Paul Von Blum

 Unfortunately, police brutality continued to dominate headlines throughout 2017. “Everyone in black communities knows of such unpleasant encounters with police, as well as broader injustices with the criminal justice system in general,” Von Blum writes in his review of a captivating collection of essays edited by activist and educator Angela J. Davis. Read the complete review here and purchase the book here.

2. The Islamic Jesus
“The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims,” a book by Mustafa Akyol, reviewed by Allen Barra 

Akyol’s book, which “tells Christians, Muslims and Jews exactly what we all have in common and how we got this way,” reaches us “not a minute too soon,” Barra writes. In a year filled with xenophobia toward Muslims, Akyol’s book is an important reminder “that much of what we call religious differences over the centuries has its origin in politics.” Read the complete review here and purchase the book here.

1. The Water Will Come
“The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World,” a book by Jeff Goodell, reviewed by Louise Rubacky

 Our most popular book review of the year focused on one of the most pressing issues of the last decade: climate change. While Goodell’s ominously titled tome “brims with designers, engineers and scientists,” Rubacky writes, it also “overflows with politics, deal-making and procrastination, and seems like a modern history of arrogance in the face of evidence.”

“This accessible book sometimes feels like a travelogue of looming disaster zones,” she says. “When will our moment of realization arrive? The water is already coming.” Read the complete review here and purchase the book here.

Need more recommendations? Check out all of Truthdig’s book reviews here.

–Posted by Emma Niles

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