What I’m reading

June 5, 2017 at 5:22 pm Leave a comment

headshot of claudia smilingPhilanthropy Ohio’s president and CEO, Suzanne T. Allen, Ph.D., and I are quite voracious readers, both on the job and off. Suzanne listens to a lot of books on CD during her travel around the state and I’m always amazed at the depth and breadth of what she’s reading. It’s a rare week that goes by without one of us saying to the other, “Here’s a GREAT book I just read, I think you’ll like it.”

The love of reading – and learning – has extended to us creating a “book club” for staff: the current book, which we’ll be discussing during a staff meeting on Wednesday, is Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. As J.D. explains, he wrote the book because “I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact that spiritual and material poverty has on their children. I want people to understand the American Dream as my family and I encountered it.” If you haven’t read the book, check out his TED talk for a glimpse into his life. J.D. Vance has recently moved back to Ohio, as he explains in this NY Times piece, where he’s started a nonprofit focused on the opiate addiction crisis.

 

stack of books on a table

Another Ohioan’s experience about living the American Dream comes in Robert Putnam’s book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, in which he analyzes and compares his growing up in Port Clinton during the 1950s to what’s happening half a century later. Putnam is perhaps best known for his Making Democracy Work and Bowling Alone books, two of 14 books he’s written during his academic career. I’ve read a few of them and just recently finished Our Kids.

Putnam brings the same careful, thoughtful scholarship to this book as he portrays the lives of diverse families at opposite ends of the economic spectrum. At the beginning of the final chapter, Putnam writes, “This book has presented a series of portraits of the contrasting lives of American young people from more and less privileged backgrounds, alongside more rigorous evidence that those personal portraits represent nationwide realities. We have examined the concentric circles of influence… and we have seen how in recent decades the challenges and opportunities facing rich and poor kids have grown more disparate.” He then describes his recommendations for how parents, communities and schools can change the opportunity gap.

Another book I’ve dipped into is Bruce Bartlett’s The Benefit and The Burden: Tax Reform – Why We Need it and What It Will Take. Although published 5 years ago, it is still of great relevance to the debates heating up in Washington D.C. this year. Bartlett served in economic policy positions for both Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush and is a frequent contributor to a variety of news media outlets. One of my favorite quotes is this: “Ideally, one would like to start with a clear philosophy of what government should do and how much it should spend, and only then decide how to raise the revenue to pay for it” – not a likely scenario in 2017.

Next up on my reading list is The Givers: Wealth, Power and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age by David Callahan. He’s the founder and editor of Inside Philanthropy and co-founder of Demos, “a public policy organization working for an America where we all have an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy.” I’ll be interested to read his description and analysis – and his opinion of – the rise of new philanthropists and how they are changing life in America. I suspect I’ll get a different set of perspectives and opinions in the next book in my reading stack, Philanthropy in Democratic Societies, a series of essays edited by Rob Reich, Chiara Cordelli and Lucy Bernholz.

Claudia Y. W. Herrold

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