A culture war still rages in America, but consider this: just two weeks ago, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta released an online video that thanked gay members of the military and their families for their service—remarkable, considering that those same service members last year faced court-martial just for being gay. It’s enough to give you hope that Dan Savage is right: maybe it does get better.
In this year’s crop of social science books comes more thoughtful examination of the issues at the heart of our American experiment. Topping the list, two big titles about our children: Jonathan Kozol’s Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America and Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. Kozol is a legend in the education field, and Solomon, author of the National Book Award for The Noonday Demons, has the chops to tackle a topic as potentially fraught as the relationship between parent and child.
The current legislative environment has been called a “war on women” by some observers, and into that milieu come two major titles on women’s issues: held over from the spring list is Vagina: A New Biography by bestselling author Naomi Wolf and the provocatively titled The End of Men: And the Rise of Women by Atlantic editor Hanna Rosin.
It has been a big year for gay rights, including President Obama’s historic endorsement of the fundamental rights of gays to marry. This season’s crop of social science books features a number of titles focusing on LGBTQ issues, including In Defense of Same-Sex Marriage: Religious Freedom, Sexual Freedom, and Public Expressions of Civic Equality, a profound examination—from a civic and religious viewpoint—of gay marriage by Emily R. Gill. Bernadette Barton’s fascinating Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays reminds us that not everywhere in America is progressive. How to Be Gay by David M. Halperin. Halperin, a pioneer of LGBTQ studies, expands on principles he taught in his notorious undergraduate course of the same title at the University of Michigan, which drew cries of protest from conservatives almost 10 years ago.
One of the complex issues facing our nation, meanwhile, is a growing obesity epidemic. While mayors like New York’s Michael Bloomberg seek drastic solutions, like limiting portion sizes via legislation, Abigail Saguy’s What’s Wrong with Fat? reveals the issue to have many sides, including body image and discrimination.
Perhaps no issue captures better what it means to be American than the contentious legislative debate around who can become American. Certainly, that question will be a major part of the November election, and into the fray comes an examination of the controversial policies and practices in Arizona: State Out of the Union: Arizona and the Final Showdown Over the American Dream by Jeff Biggers.
Meanwhile, the American question gets a great, real-life look in Baker’s Son by Lowell Hawthorne. The book is a memoir that tells the story of the most successful Caribbean business ever established in the U.S., the Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery & Grill, a Jamaican-owned and -run enterprise. The book couldn’t be more timely—a study released from the Fiscal Policy Institute found that more than one in six small business owners in the U.S. were started by immigrants, and Hawthorne’s story is at once inspirational, and revelatory.
PW’s Top 10: Social Science
Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America by Jonathan Kozol. Crown, Aug.
Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon. Scribner, Nov.
Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf. Ecco, Sept.
The End of Men: And the Rise of Women by Hanna Rosin. Riverhead Books, Sept.
In Defense of Same-Sex Marriage: Religious Freedom, Sexual Freedom, and Public Expressions of Civic Equality by Emily R. Gill. Georgetown Univ. Press, Sept.
Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays by Bernadette C. Barton. NYU Press, Oct.
How to Be Gay by David M. Halperin. Harvard, Aug.
What’s Wrong with Fat? by Abigail Saguy, Oxford, Jan.
State Out of the Union: Arizona and the Final Showdown Over the American Dream by Jeff Biggers. Nation Books, Sept.
Baker’s Son by Lowell Hawthorne. Akashic Books, Sept.
Read and sort all our picks from this fall's upcoming social sciences titles in the spreadsheet below: