Nonfiction Previews, Apr. 2013, Pt. 1: Post-Election Wake-Up Calls from Barbara Garson, Vali Nasr, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and More

Bagli, Charles V. Other People’s Money: Inside the Housing Crisis and the Demise of the Greatest Real Estate Deal Ever Made. Dutton. Apr. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9780525952657. $27.95. BUSINESS/REAL ESTATE
In 2006, real estate behemoth Tishman Speyer and its partner, BlackRock, bought Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town, a middle-class housing complex on New York’s Lower East Side, for $5.4 billion. Four years later, Tishman Speyer defaulted, and, just like that, investors from the Church of England to the California Teachers’ pension fund lost everything. Meanwhile, MetLife made $3 billion, and eight residents of the complex had the gumption to sue—and won their case in court. Bagli, the New York Times reporter who broke this story, gives us a full chronicle. Not just local news; this, perhaps the biggest failure in real estate history, says a lot about the housing crisis that’s landed us where we are now.

Garson, Barbara. Down the Up Escalator: How the 99 Percent Live in the Great Recession. Doubleday. Apr. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780385532747. $26.95; eISBN 9780385532754. CURRENT EVENTS
Since publication of All the Livelong Day, her 1975 classic study of the working life, Garson has been regarded as a sharp-eyed populist journalist who speaks truth to power. (You’ll also recall her as the author of MacBird!, a satirical play that identified LBJ with Macbeth.) Ranging far and wide both geographically and in terms of job type, she shows how folks from unemployed bankers to factory workers just hanging on to a pink-slipped health care worker facing eviction have been surviving a bad economy that’s taking us down, down, down. A you-are-there report from the trenches in the style of Studs Terkel.

Kaiser, Robert G. Act of Congress: How America’s Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn’t. Knopf. Apr. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780307700162. $27.95; eISBN 9780307962188. POLITICAL SCIENCE
The Dodd-Frank Act, called in full the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, is a comprehensive financial reform bill guided through Congress by Rep. Barney Frank and Sen. Christopher Dodd after the 2008 economic crisis. This is not a book about the bill but about its passage through Congress over 18 months and a way to understand how Congress does and doesn’t work, as the title says. Kaiser, who had access to the bill’s sponsors as well as the key Republicans involved, is an Overseas Press Club and National Press Club award winner who has been at the Washington Post since 1963. So here’s betting that he knows his stuff and can tell it like it is.

Nasr, Vali. The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat. Doubleday. Apr. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780385536479. $27.95; eISBN 9780385536486. CD: Random Audio. POLITICAL SCIENCE
Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a former State Department adviser for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Nasr has a bone to pick with the Obama administration. Fearing reaction at home and terrorists abroad, he argues, it missed the chance to strengthen relationships in the Middle East, even as China and Russia have patiently extended their influence there. Meanwhile, we keep friending the wrong friends and send in drones, making Arab nations increasingly angry. As a best-selling author (e.g., The Shia Revival), Nasr should write persuasively for the everyday reader.

Schultz, Debbie Wasserman & Julie M. Fenster. For the Next Generation: A Wake-Up Call to Solving Our Nation’s Problems.  St. Martin’s. Apr. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781250000996. $25.95. MEMOIR/GOVERNMENT
U.S. Representative for Florida 20th congressional district since 2006 and Democratic National Committee chair, Schultz is decidedly opinionated. She’s worried about health care and energy policy, angry at polarized politics, the obsession with reelection, and rightwing control of the political conversation, and insistent that our current political paralysis is shortchanging the next generation. Clearly a manifesto—and clearly from someone who hasn’t turned cynical and believes that the system can work.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.