Books you should read and cite right now

You could complain that these are all books by friends of mine, but it’s not my fault that I have super smart and productive friends.

1. Behind the Backlash by Lori Peek

As America tried to absorb the shock of the 9/11 attacks, Muslim Americans were caught up in an unprecedented wave of backlash violence. Public discussion revealed that widespread misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Islam persisted, despite the striking diversity of the Muslim community. Letting the voices of 140 ordinary Muslim American men and women describe their experiences, Lori Peek’s path-breaking book, Behind the Backlash, presents moving accounts of prejudice and exclusion. Muslims speak of being subjected to harassment before the attacks, and recount the discrimination they encountered afterwards. Peek also explains the struggles of young Muslim adults to solidify their community and define their identity during a time of national crisis. Behind the Backlash seeks to explain why blame and scape-goating occur after a catastrophe. Peek sets the twenty-first century experience of Muslim Americans, who were vilified and victimized, in the context of larger sociological and psychological processes. Peek’s book will be of interest to those in disaster research studies, sociology of religion, and race and ethnic relations.

2. Starstruck, the Business of Celebrity by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

By tackling America’s current condition of free-news oversaturation and ubiquitous fixation with celebrities, Currid-Halkett (Policy, Planning, and Development/Univ. of Southern California; The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City, 2007) asks how much celebrity-dominated airwaves, newspapers, magazines and conversations distract us from more meaningful issues. “[O]n the whole,” she writes, “many of us care far more about [Jennifer] Aniston’s latte than the thousands being murdered in Sudan.” The author backs up her case by citing solid studies, interviews and statistics–including the number of times a celebrity is photographed in a year, or how many events he/she attends–all of which she weaves together with accessible language while maintaining narrative momentum. She defines celebrity as the phenomenon of society valuing certain individuals for reasons that outweigh–or are entirely unrelated to–their talent. It’s this key difference, she argues, between how much attention should be paid to someone (due to their talent) and how much attention is actually given, that accounts for “celebrity residual.” This is most likely to show up in the fields of entertainment, sports and politics. More than anything else, people respond to visual stimuli, which, to a large extent, explains Paris Hilton’s camera-friendly rise to become the “ultimate celebrity.” There’s also the relatively recent sphere of reality-TV stars, like the Gosselins or Kardashians–talentless people who captured the public’s interest. Celebrity permeates every level of society, and Currid-Halkett deftly tracks how this democratic celebrity–of both mainstream stars as well as, say, the local high-school quarterback or an incessantly updating Facebook friend–reveals how the world is organized. She looks at the economics, accounting for all the money made by photographing celebrities, and the roots and duration of stardom. The book raises surprisingly uncomfortable questions, including why society is so invested in people who, for all intents and purposes, could be fictional characters for how little impact they have on our reality.

3. Climatopolis: How Our Cities will Thrive in the Hotter Future by Matt Kahn

As the scientific consensus continues to grow about Earth’s dramatically rising temperatures, the media’s vision of global warming’s likely catastrophic effects on mankind has become increasingly gloomy. Kahn, a UCLA environmental economics professor, doesn’t question most climatologists’ dire predictions, but argues here that mankind is resilient enough to adapt and even thrive despite the coming geographic disruptions. Kahn’s main focus is on urban areas where he anticipates that forward-looking entrepreneurs will take advantage of crisis-driven opportunities to offer innovative goods and services. Kahn begins by looking at historical examples of cities that bounced back from war and natural disasters, and moves on to analyze “green” cities and water usage economics as a windup to forecasting how specific cities like L.A. and New York might adjust to scorching temperatures or flooding. Kahn makes several assumptions that will no doubt anger environmentalists, including the notion that globalization will compensate for widespread agricultural failures. Yet compared to the global warming worst-case scenarios offered by Hollywood, his optimistic emphasis on humanity’s ingenuity and adaptability is refreshing. –Carl Hays

4. The Companion to Urban Design by Tridib Banerjee and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris (Pre-order).

Today the practice of urban design has forged a distinctive identity with applications at many different scales – ranging from the block or street scale to the scale of metropolitan and regional landscapes. Urban design interfaces many aspects of contemporary public policy – multiculturalism, healthy cities, environmental justice, economic development, climate change, energy conservations, protection of natural environments, sustainable development, community liveability, and the like. The field now comprises a core body of knowledge that enfolds a right history of ideas, paradigms, principles, tools, research and applications, enriched by electric influences from the humanities, and social and natural sciences.

Companion to Urban Design includes more than fifty original contributions from internationally recognized authorities in the field. These contributions address the following questions: What are the important ideas that have shaped the field and the current practice of urban design? What are the major methods and processes that have influenced the practice of urban design at various scales? What are the current innovations relevant to the pedagogy of urban design? What are the lingering debates, conflicts ad contradictions in the theory and practice of urban design? How could urban design respond to the contemporary challenges of climate change, sustainability, active living initiatives, globalization, and the like? What are the significant disciplinary influences on the theory, research and practice of urban design in recent times?

There has never before been a more authoritative and comprehensive companion that includes core, foundational and pioneering ideas and concepts of urban design. This book serves as an invaluable guide for undergraduate and postgraduate students, future professionals, and practitioners interested in architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning, but also in urban studies, urban affairs, geography, and related fields.

5. Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World by Grace Y. Kao

In 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which declared that every human being, without distinction of any kind, possesses a set of morally authoritative rights and fundamental freedoms that ought to be socially guaranteed. Since that time, human rights have arguably become the cross-cultural moral concept and evaluative tool to measure the performance-and even legitimacy-of domestic regimes. Yet questions remain that challenge their universal validity and theoretical bases. Some theorists are ‘maximalistA’ in their insistence that human rights must be grounded religiously, while an opposing camp attempts to justify them in minimalist fashion without any necessary recourse to religion, metaphysics, or essentialism. In “Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralistic World”, Grace Kao critically examines the strengths and weaknesses of these contending interpretations while also exploring the political liberalism of John Rawls and others, and the Capability Approach as spearheaded by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. By retrieving insights from a variety of approaches, Kao defends an account of human rights that straddles the minimalist-maximalist divide, one that links human rights to a conception of our common humanity and to the notion that ethical realism gives the most satisfying account of our commitment to the equal moral worth of all human beings.

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