• March 22, 2012

Colin Calloway describes Rez Life as “the best book yet on Indian country today.” Travel to Salt Lake City and the scandal of its Olympic bid, explored in Tarnished Rings. Ever wondered what “opposition researchers” do? Open Season will more than answer your questions. And for a comparison of America and New Zealand, read Freedom and Fairness.

In today’s Snapshots “We’ve all gone to look for America.” We start with Rez Life, which Colin Calloway describes as “the best book yet on Indian country today,” then travel to Salt Lake City and the scandal of its Olympic bid, explored in Tarnished Rings. Politics in this political season? Ever wondered what “opposition researchers” do? We’re With Nobody will more than answer your questions. And for a non-intuitive but important comparison of the open societies of America and New Zealand, one that provides insights about issues in the upcoming presidential election, read Freedom and Fairness. Food for thought and fascinating reading!


Rez Life
by David Truer
Atlantic Monthly Press
330 pp.

Reservations served a dual function in U.S. Indian policy of the 19th century: They confined Indians to a fraction of their former homelands, and they were supposed to be crucibles of change where, under supervision and subjected to massive cultural assault, Native Americans would learn to live like white Americans. Many Indians resisted the transformation, and in 1887 Congress passed the Allotment Act to break reservations into individual plots of land; in the mid-20th century it initiated measures to relocate Indians from reservations to cities. Reservations today all too often display all too clearly the effects of such policies and the legacies of colonialism. At the same time, they offer evidence of Indian people’s determination to remain Indian and of humans’ capacity to survive the things that other humans do to them. David Truer, an Ojibwe novelist and essayist, portrays both aspects of life on his reservation and others in northern Minnesota. Written in journalististic style, part history, part memoir and thoroughly compelling, Rez Life pulls no punches. It depicts poverty, unemployment, drugs, alcohol, gangs, domestic violence, dysfunctional families, single automobile accidents, self-inflicted pain and lives that are filled with tragedy, empty of hope and frequently short. But colorful characters, often using colorful language, demonstrate the toughness, resilience, humor, caring and generosity that were surely necessary for reservations to survive as Indian communities, and that offer hope, for at least some, of a brighter future. Based on lived experience and family history, illuminated with interviews and paying due attention to the past that explains so much of the present, Rez Life may be the best book yet on Indian country today.
~Colin G. Calloway

Tarnished Rings: The International Olympic Committee and the Salt Lake City Bid Scandal
by Stephen Wenn, Robert Barney and Scott Martyn
Syracuse University Press
320 pp.

Imagine, if you can, an institution so rife with greed and with such a Gordon Gecco -style gonna-get-mine mentality that a United States Congressmen, of all people, would be inspired to rail ― without a hint of irony ― about a culture of corruption “that encourages the practice of excessive lobbying.” Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the International Olympic Committee in the dark days of the Salt Lake City delegate-buying scandal, before Mitt Romney parachuted in to save the Salt Lake Games, and maybe the Games themselves, by putting on a feel-good Winter Olympics just five months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It’s all here, in the pages of Tarnished Rings … except for, you know, much of anything about Romney or the Games themselves, or the kind of narrative a storyteller like Michael Lewis (Moneyball, The Biggest Short, Boomerang) might have brought to such a drama-rich environment. The authors, Canadian college professors and co-authors of the similarly inspired Selling the Five Rings, chronicle the International Olympic Committee’s tortured efforts to right the ship under the scrutiny of corporate sponsors, both houses of Congress, the FBI and aroused sportswriters. The result amounts to a well-researched, meticulously footnoted term paper ― 170 pages of dusty text, 64 pages of notes ― that leaves us with two enduring lessons: First, it’s almost never a good sign when a book begins with a full-page glossary of acronyms. And second, the Olympics were more fun when it was possible to view the Games as a quaint anachronism, peopled by athletes who got all those muscles by eating their Wheaties, and organizers who did their jobs out of the goodness of their hearts.
~Jay Price


We’re With Nobody: Two Insiders Reveal The Dark Side of American Politics
Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian
William Morrow
187 pp.

“I’m not with anybody.” Campaign opposition researchers Huffman and Rejebian routinely offer this response to suspicious municipal clerks who wonder why these nondescript young men are requesting public records about a local politician. The two researchers make a living by digging up dirt on candidates ― talking to neighbors and ex-wives, reviewing tax and court documents and paging laboriously through dusty deed books. Sometimes they investigate a candidate’s opponent to find material for negative ads. Sometimes they scrutinize a politician’s own background to prepare for the attack ads to come. Their guiding principle? “No one is fit to lead unless proven otherwise.” The two pride themselves on their commitment to the truth, but acknowledge that once they’ve revealed their research to a candidate, it can easily be used to create so-called dazzle camouflage, “whereby complicated imagery is superimposed on the truth to fool the eye.” After 20 years in the business, the authors provide plenty of gripping anecdotes — without naming names. Readers won’t learn much about the skeleton in any particular politician’s closet, but they’ll close the covers with a clearer understanding of how and why it was discovered. What to do with that knowledge is up to us.
~Susan Green

Fairness and Freedom: A History of Two Open Societies, New Zealand and the United States
by David Hackett Fischer
Oxford University Press
656 pp.

The United States and New Zealand seem unlikely candidates for comparison. One is a vast continental country that stands at the center of global affairs, the other a small island nation remote from the rest of the world. Yet both are the products of British imperial expansion and both are “open societies” that stress rule of law, human rights, market economies and democratic institutions. David Hackett Fischer, one of the most original and productive historians writing today, provides a rich and illuminating comparative historical analysis of the two countries, one that examines their shared heritage and civic values while highlighting what he sees as a key point of difference in their cultures: Americans’ emphasis on freedom versus New Zealanders’ emphasis on fairness. Some might complain that this contrast is too stark and simplistic, but as an analytical conceit it serves a useful purpose, shining a spotlight on distinctive features of the two countries’ responses to social and political challenges. Freedom and Fairness is also a surprisingly timely read in this election season. While Republican candidates for president campaign on platforms that stress freedom from government interference, President Obama has raised his flag in support of fairness. If Fischer is right, Americans’ cultural affinity for freedom over fairness bodes ill for Obama’s reelection chances.
~Dane Kennedy

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