Out of the Mainstream: Books and Films You May Have Missed


13 Bankers
By Simon Johnson and James Kwak
Pantheon, 2010

This book explains in convincing detail how Wall Street destroyed the economy, why elected officials and regulators in both the Bush and Obama administrations failed to take the necessary action, and what ought to be done now.


1877: America’s Year of Living Violently
By Michael A. Bellesiles
The New Press, 2010

1877, like 1968 or 2001, was a year in which events converged to change the course of U.S. history. An historian writes in accessible style about a year of economic depression in which white mobs attacked African-Americans and Mexicans, a national railroad strike headlined a series of major battles between working people and big capital, and the U.S. Army faced stiff resistance from Native Americans.


A Shameful Business
By James A. Gross
Cornell University Press, 2010

Politicians of various stripes occasionally find it useful to decry human rights abuses in other countries. This book details the human rights abuses built into the American workplace, where property rights are consistently valued over workers’ rights.


By Tim Wise
City Lights, 2010

America needs not to “move beyond” race but to adopt innovative public policies that directly address it. Wise gives specific ideas of what those policies might be.


Dreams of Repair 
By Eleanor Rubin
Charta, 2010

As Howard Zinn suggests in his introduction to this collection of works by a longtime printmaker and watercolor artist, Rubin’s art responds to suffering in the world on a life-affirming, emotional level rather than as propaganda.


Ending the U.S. War in Afghanistan
By David Wildman and Phyllis Bennis
Olive Branch, 2010

In question-and-answer format, analysts from the United Methodist Church and the Institute for Policy Studies provide essential background on the real reasons for the Bush invasion of Afghanistan and the continuation of the war by President Obama. They also address the question of how the U.S. can bring its involvement to an end.


Green Gone Wrong
By Heather Rogers
Scribner, 2010

Many Americans feel that they are taking meaningful action about climate change by substituting cloth shopping bags for plastic ones or buying organic food. But having real impact requires joining together to win government action to control greenhouse gas emissions, develop and distribute alternative energy, invest in mass transit, encourage sustainable local food production, and address the global wealth gap.


Railroad Noir
By Linda Grant Niemann, with photographs by Joel Jensen
Indiana University Press, 2010

The author provides an unvarnished account of her experiences as one of the first women to serve as a “brakeman” and conductor on American railroads. Her plainspoken description of the pros and cons of the work, as well as the way work life has deteriorated under the management assault of the past few decades, could apply to many other kinds of blue-collar work. Her vignettes are accompanied by stunning photos that capture the drama, isolation, and danger often involved in railroad work.


Seeds of Change
By John Atlas
Vanderbilt University Press, 2010

The president of the National Housing Institute has written an impressively detailed, thoughtful, and honest history of ACORN, from its founding to its recent reorganization forced by right-wing attacks.


Share This!
By Deanna Zandt
Berrett-Koehler, 2010

An experienced progressive activist shares her knowledge and insights about the potential and limits of social networking.


The Autobiography of an Execution
By David R. Dow
Twelve, 2010

A Texas law professor who has handled appeals in more than a hundred death penalty cases provides a powerful personal account of the issues, contradictions, and stresses that his work involves.


The Can Man
By Laura E. Williams and Craig Orback
Lee and Low, 2010

In this children’s book, a young boy watches a neighbor collect cans for survival after becoming homeless because of hard times. The boy gets the idea that he could collect the cans instead, in order to buy a new skateboard. Eventually, the boy learns some lessons about human kindness and


The Climate War
By Eric Pooley
Hyperion, 2010

A veteran journalist describes the inside story of the political fight over climate change legislation, including the role White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel played in delaying and weakening Obama
administration efforts on the issue.


The Crying Tree
By Naseem Rakha
Broadway, 2009
In this masterfully written novel, a fifteen year old Oregon boy is killed at home by a nineteen-year-old intruder. As the legal system takes many years to process the case, the victim’s mother believes that only the execution of the man who killed her son will bring her closure. Over time, she learns
deeper truths about the crime, about herself, and about human connection.


The New Jim Crow
By Michelle Alexander
The New Press, 2010

The civil rights movement challenged employment and housing discrimination, the denial of voting rights, and access to education. Today, millions of people of color are denied basic rights because they are in jail or are convicted felons. A law professor and former ACLU attorney documents how mass incarceration has become a new legal form of Jim Crow—and asks why progressive Americans, including traditional civil rights groups, are doing so little about it.


The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell
By Jamie Court
Chelsea Green, 2010

A consumer activist shares his thoughts about issue campaigning. One of his themes is that the key to victory often is to force a more powerful opponent into making a mistake you can exploit.


When Chicken Soup Isn’t Enough 
Edited by Suzanne Gordon
Cornell University Press, 2010

Seventy registered nurses, most of them in the U.S., tell briefly about times they have challenged obstacles to providing quality patient care. Most of these vignettes involve individual action such as confronting a doctor or administrator.


Yasmin’s Hammer
By Ann Malaspina and Doug Ghayka
Lee and Low, 2010
A girl in Bangladesh yearns to go to school, but her family’s survival depends on the income she makes working in a brickyard. This children’s story gently explores conditions and dilemmas that are unfamiliar to many Americans.



8: The Mormon Proposition
www.mormonproposition.com, 2010

A former Mormon evangelist who is now a journalist directed this seventy-eight minute documentary about how the Mormon Church drove the initiative campaign in California that took away the right of gays and lesbians to marry. The film says the Mormons plowed $30 million into the campaign through front groups, while bringing in canvassers from Utah who were instructed not to wear white shirts and ties that would identify their affiliation. Interviewees include a gay descendant of one of the church’s original founders.


Citizen Architect
www.citizenarchitectfilm.com, 2010

An hour-long film portrays an Auburn University program that gives architecture students a chance to work closely with poor communities in rural Alabama to find innovative solutions to meet their housing needs.


Entre Nos

An immigrant from Colombia raised her two children alone in the U.S., supporting them by collecting cans from the city’s garbage. Now, her daughter and another filmmaker have collaborated to tell her
story in an eighty-two minute tearjerker.


Frozen Dreams
centroixim66@hotmail.com, 2010

One hundred and sixty immigrant workers at a Del Monte food packing plant in Oregon were detained in a federal raid. Some of them tell their story in this thirty-minute film, which also includes
footage showing why immigrant workers come to the U.S. in the first place.


www.obselidiathemovie.com, 2010
In this entertaining ninety-seven-minute feature, shot in L.A. and Death Valley, a librarian spends his off hours compiling an encyclopedia of obsolete things as he mourns the rapid disappearance of American cultural traditions. He also studies the deadly effects of climate change, which he learns may already be irreversible. After he interviews a silent movie theater projectionist for his book, the two strike up a friendship and help each other find joy and beauty in an increasingly troubled world.


Reel Injun
www.reelinjunthemovie.com, 2009

In this eighty-eight-minute documentary, a Cree filmmaker makes fun of the way stereotypes about native peoples have been created or reinforced by portrayals in Hollywood movies through the years.


The Most Dangerous Man in America
www.mostdangerousman.org, 2009

Daniel Ellsberg risked life in prison to leak secret Pentagon documents showing the government’s deception about the Vietnam War. This ninety-four-minute documentary dramatically raises the question of why a few individuals go against the tide and challenge the powerful despite the likely personal cost.

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