10 Books, Movies That Explore The American Experience

Over the past month or so,  I’ve read — or watched — a wide range of material exploring the American Way.

Here are 10 works I recommend:

1. Glass House by Brian Alexander: I learned about this book from What’s Nonfiction (read review here) and was several pages into the book before I realized that I’ve been to Lancaster, Ohio multiple times in the past year (the story’s setting). It is the town where I dine after a day of hiking at Hocking Hills. Although the financial aspect of the book is too complicated for my tastes, the societal implications of the economic downturn hits close to home. The book deals with the heroin epidemic and the town leaders inability to solve their economic depravity. The obsession of Lancaster’s leaders with poorly thought out solutions (like festivals and tourism) for their economic demise felt very familiar.

2. Dream Land: This is an excellent book to better understand how states like Ohio became an easy target for the heroin trade. Dealers, mostly from small, rural regions of Mexico, swooped in and profited off the consumer base created through opioid prescriptions. The lack of violence in Ohio (and other states east of the Mississippi River) is by design as customer service and a pizza-delivery style approach — plus a keen awareness of law enforcement’s desire for ‘big busts’ — kept the heroin market thriving.

3. Don’t Let Your Kids Kill You: A manual of sorts for parents who have children dealing with drug addiction. The book offers insight into the signs and problems of addictions while offering methods on maintaining a high quality of life for the non-addicted.

4. Tears We Cannot Stop: Sermon to White America. Black minister Michael E. Dyson touches on everything from Black Lives Matters to the hypocrisy of the Tea Party, which he astutely notes, read, on the House floor, a modified version of the Constitution (avoiding the article about slaves being 3/5ths human) when they came to power in 2010. The book offers a strongly argued viewpoint that’s America’s ‘whiteness’ is part of our problem in the current era.

5. The Complacent Class by Tyler Cowen: Several books have addressed the issue of how American communities are becoming more segregated by class and income in addition to race. But this book also looks at the impact this segregation is having on politics and our democracy. The lack of mobility of the current generation has left us economically and politically vulnerable, the author asserts.

Movies

6. Warning: This Drug Can Kill You: In this hour-long HBO Documentary you meet several families from across the country dealing with various degrees of the heroin epidemic. The movie begins with 1990s footage of a pharmaceutical company falsely claiming that opioids are non-addictive. The movie ends with a law enforcement agency that, in lieu of criminalization, have an open door policy to place willing heroin addicts into rehab centers. Very powerful stories from ‘real’ people dealing with the fallout of an epidemic created by an under-regulated industry.

7. Friends of God: Filmed in 2006 by Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of Nancy Pelosi, the slant is obvious. The story is interesting as she criss-crosses the country highlighting churches and church signs while interviewing powerful ministers. Although not the goal of the film, it does show the mindset (Vote your Values) that willingly voted for president Trump and why they are doubling-down despite his less than Christian tactics.

8. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Although the film was a little disappointing since the story is quite powerful, it is still a quick way to learn about the rise of the bio-medical industry. Cells extracted from Henrietta Lacks, without her consent, have resulted in cures, cutting-edge medicines and billions of dollars in profit. Lacks, a poor, black woman was never compensated for — what amounts to legalized theft of — her cells. And, as the film points out, it is still legal to extract cells from a patient without their consent.

9. I Am Not Your Negro: Based on a unfinished project by black novelist James Baldwin, the film is mostly a look at America’s hypocritical whiteness. Although there is plenty to comment on about the film, one of the most powerful effects for me was how they zoomed in on historical photos of school integration. By zooming past the black teen or child heading to school and highlighting the expressions on the faces of white children, teens and adults, it is very disheartening to realize those same intense expressions of hate exist today, more than 50 years later.

10. All The Way: This is another HBO film, and it is about LBJ’s campaign for the presidency. LBJ was renown for his crudeness, which the film includes, but the movie is really an excellent condensed version of 1964 — LBJ’s first full year as president. It shows how, even then, politicians were more concerned about wielding power than democracy. Be forewarned, for those tired of the current political debacle, it will not be pleasant film, and it may reinforce budding cynicism.

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Categories: American History, Books I have read, movies

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3 thoughts on “10 Books, Movies That Explore The American Experience

  1. I agree with your take on Glass House! And I’m looking forward to reading Dream Land after this and your full review of it. I haven’t watched the Henrietta Lacks film, but I heard it didn’t live up to the book, and the book was excellent. Great reading/watching list! Those documentaries all sound interesting, I’m adding them to my to-watch. I just watched Oxyana not long ago, have you seen it? It’s a doc about one small town in West Virginia where it seems nearly everyone is suffering opiate addiction. It was dark and not optimistic, but worth a look.

  2. I watched Oxyana today — definitely dark, but very interesting. I think those type of films are needed, though, even if they are a little slanted (according to some reviews). They cast a light on a situation that otherwise would go unnoticed. Based on the books you’ve read and reviewed, I do think you would like Dream Land — it is a very well rounded story with lots of interesting details about how communities in the U.S. became afflicted with opioids… I’m finally getting around to reading some of the books you’ve reviewed. I getting ready to start Bellevue. (My list of books to read just keeps growing!)

    • Agreed about Oxyana, I think it’s a problem that many are choosing to turn away from and that’s never going to get it solved. I’m looking forward to Dream Land, my reading list is so long and like yours, never seems to stop growing! Hopefully I’ll get to it soon. I think you’ll like Bellevue, I loved it and learned so much from it, completely fascinating. Will be looking forward to your review!

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