BOOK REVIEW: Culture Warlords, by Talia Lavin

BOOK REVIEW: Culture Warlords, by Talia LavinTitle: Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy by Talia Lavin
Published by Hachette Books
Published: October 13th 2020
Genres: Cultural Studies, Non-Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

A HARROWING JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF WHITE SUPREMACY

Talia Lavin is every skinhead’s worst nightmare: a loud and unapologetic Jewish woman, acerbic, smart, and profoundly antiracist, with the investigative chops to expose the tactics and ideologies of online hatemongers. Culture Warlords is the story of how Lavin, a frequent target of extremist trolls (including those at Fox News), dove into a byzantine online culture of hate and learned the intricacies of how white supremacy proliferates online.

Within these pages, she reveals the extremists hiding in plain sight online: Incels. White nationalists. White supremacists. National Socialists. Proud Boys. Christian extremists. In order to showcase them in their natural habitat, Talia assumes a range of identities, going undercover as a blonde Nazi babe, a forlorn incel, and a violent Aryan femme fatale. Along the way, she discovers a whites-only dating site geared toward racists looking for love, a disturbing extremist YouTube channel run by a fourteen-year-old girl with over 800,000 followers, the everyday heroes of the antifascist movement, and much more.

By combining compelling stories chock-full of catfishing and gate-crashing with her own in-depth, gut-wrenching research, she also turns the lens of anti-Semitism, racism, and white power back on itself in an attempt to dismantle and decimate the online hate movement from within. Shocking, humorous, and merciless in equal measure, Culture Warlords explores some of the vilest subcultures on the Web-and shows us how we can fight back.

Talia Lavin’s Culture Warlords is a compelling, terrifying glimpse into white supremacy. This is by no means a complete examination of the many facets white supremacy reveals itself online and in our culture, but this is a good starting point and a good place to open up the conversation and personal research regarding why it feels like white supremacy has run rampantly unchecked lately.

I started reading this on the Friday after the attempted coup on January 6 because it felt like the right time to read it. I’ve always known white supremacy is deeply entwined in American history, but watching the events that unfolded last week brought it to the clearest forefront.

Lavin’s research and deep dives into white supremacist communities online and off are harrowing, brave, and gutsy. I know I don’t have the wherewithal to catfish on any level, so to me the levels she took this to are incredible. She risked so much going undercover to expose these internet communities, and I can’t even begin to imagine the emotional toll this endeavor has had on her.

One of the things I found most interesting about this is her exploration of the internet being a strikingly new tool at radicalization. It’s only in the last thirty or forty years that we as a planet have had the capabilities to share thoughts and information like this, and the more our society moves online to communicate, the more opportunities there are for unchecked, unmoderated spaces for white supremacist groups to connect.

I couldn’t put Culture Warlords down, and I finished it within a few hours of starting it. This is a necessary read, and it’s a necessary conversation opener.

Many thanks to Hachette Books for sending a complimentary review copy my way!

BOOK REVIEW: The Art of the Good Life, by Rolf Dobelli

BOOK REVIEW: The Art of the Good Life, by Rolf DobelliTitle: The Art of the Good Life: 52 Surprising Shortcuts to Happiness, Wealth, and Success by Rolf Dobelli
Published by Hachette Books
Published: November 6th 2018
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 272
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Since antiquity, people have been asking themselves what it means to live a good life. How should I live? What constitutes a good life? What's the role of fate? What's the role of money? Is leading a good life a question of mindset, or is it more about reaching your goals? Is it better to actively seek happiness or to avoid unhappiness?

Each generation poses these questions anew, and somehow the answers are always fundamentally disappointing. Why? Because we're constantly searching for a single principle, a single tenet, a single rule. Yet this holy grail -- a single, simple path to happiness -- doesn't exist. Rolf Dobelli -- successful businessman, founder of the TED-style ideas conference Zurich Minds, bestselling author, and all-around seeker of big ideas -- has made finding a shortcut to happiness his life's mission. He's synthesized the leading thinkers and the latest science in happiness to find the best shortcuts to satisfaction in THE ART OF THE GOOD LIFE, his follow up to the international bestseller The Art of Thinking Clearly (which has sold more than 2.5 million copies in 40 languages all around the globe).

THE ART OF THE GOOD LIFE is a toolkit designed for practical living. Here you'll find fifty-two happiness hacks - from guilt-free shunning of technology to gleefully paying your parking tickets - that are certain to optimize your happiness. These tips may not guarantee you a good life, but they'll give you a better chance (and that's all any of us can ask for).

For the most part, I liked this book. I don’t think it’s ultimately got anything life-changing in it. However, I do think it serves as a good reminder in how to think about what you want in your own “good life.” Not every self-help book is going to be the cure, but I think if you read them critically and think of ways to apply someone else’s thought processes to your own life, you might make your own discoveries.

I read it in short bursts over lunch breaks over the course of a week, and I think it’s best read in little bits rather than all at once. In fifty-two essays, Rolf Dobelli tells us how to live a good life. The essays focused a lot on modesty, on not being overly flashy, that the “mediocre” is often okay. Some of it I agreed with, some of it I was ambivalent towards, and some I disagreed with. The bits about saving and not overspending and overextending yourself I agreed with. We all have a limited resource of time, focus, and energy, and we should be mindful of where we spend those resources.

However, when it came to the subject of giving back to the community, Dobelli suggests that it’s better to just throw money at it and not worry about it otherwise. Living the “good life” to me is not about throwing money at something and forgetting it exists. If I can donate some energy and time to making someone else’s life a little bit better, I feel like I’d get much more out of it than just by donating money. Granted, some of the examples he gave were giving money rather than volunteer tourism, but what about in your local community? The examples Dobelli gave sometimes felt like he’d rather hole himself up inside and not communicate with other people because it’s too exhausting. For me, I think one of the key points of a good life is the relationships and connections you build with other people and your community.

The best ideas out of this book that I needed to be reminded of is the circle of competence (doing what you’re good at), the five-second no (because saying yes all the time is not always a good thing), and a circle of dignity (your foundation, essentially). I know I can devote myself to being good at a lot of things, but I would ultimately rather focus my skills and attention on being great at a few things. Saying no and saying yes without a second thought will ultimately give you more work and stress than you’re expecting, so it’s good to take a few moments to consider it and give a response that’s true to you and your foundation. And you can’t have a foundation until you’ve lived a little, lost a little, and experienced the world in real time. I enjoyed the afterword a lot, too, as it made the entire thing a little more personal to Dobelli.

If you’re looking for a bite-sized pick-me-up based on research and using real-life examples, you might enjoy what you find in here!

Thank you to Hachette for sending me a complimentary copy to review!

BOOK REVIEW: Code Girls, by Liza Mundy

BOOK REVIEW: Code Girls, by Liza MundyTitle: Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy
Published by Hachette Books
Published: October 2nd 2018
Genres: History, Non-Fiction
Pages: 448
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Recruited by the U.S. Army and Navy from small towns and elite colleges, more than ten thousand women served as codebreakers during World War II. While their brothers and boyfriends took up arms, these women moved to Washington and learned the meticulous work of code-breaking. Their efforts shortened the war, saved countless lives, and gave them access to careers previously denied to them. A strict vow of secrecy nearly erased their efforts from history; now, through dazzling research and interviews with surviving code girls, bestselling author Liza Mundy brings to life this riveting and vital story of American courage, service, and scientific accomplishment.

When I think of code breaking in World War II, I think of Alan Turning, British spies, and the Enigma machine. The history I was familiar with growing up didn’t mention much about American code breaking, let alone no mention of women’s involvement in code breaking during World War II.

Liza Mundy explores women who joined both the Army (WAC) and Navy (WAVES) to aid the war effort in code breaking. She focuses mostly on two women named Dot and Crow, but also includes other notable women who contributed. Mundy draws on her own research and interviews she conducted with these women, and I felt like I could read countless pages about the lives of these women and the risks they took.

It is both inspiring and frustrating to realize how much work these women did to aid the war effort and how little credit they have received in our history books. Now knowing that the work these women did to break codes entirely shifted the American’s trajectory during World War II, I want everyone who is interested in women’s history and war history to read this. It further goes to show that the paths taken in wartime are never black and white, never just a boy’s club, and never as straight as some would like to assume. War is complicated, and these women sometimes had to break codes containing information that lead to the direct harm of people they knew without being able to put a stop to the attacks. Mundy showcases the strength and resilience of these women in then-unheard of situations.

This comes highly recommended from me, so if you are interested in women’s history and World War II history, add this to your TBRs immediately.

Thank you to Hachette for sending me a complimentary copy for review. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Get Money, by Kristin Wong

BOOK REVIEW: Get Money, by Kristin WongTitle: Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford by Kristin Wong
Published by Hachette Books
Published: March 27th 2018
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Learn how to live the life you want, not just the life you can afford!

Managing your money is like going to the dentist or standing in line at the DMV. Nobody wants to do it, but at some point, it's inevitable: you need to clean your teeth, renew your license, and manage your personal finances like a grown-up. Whether you're struggling to pay off student loan debt, ready to stop living paycheck to paycheck, or have finally accepted that your Beanie Baby collection will never pay off, tackling your finances may seem immensely intimidating. But it doesn't have to be. By approaching personal finance as a game--something that requires you to set clear goals, as well as face challenges you must "beat"--personal finance can not only be easy to understand, but it can also be fun!

Sometimes life brings you a book exactly when you need it. Get Money by Kristin Wong came at just the right time. Nobody likes to actually think about money or talk about it or do anything about it, and by nobody, I mostly mean me. But at thirty, I need to really start planning for my future and stop being so lazy and inconsequential about my finances.

Most money management books I’ve flipped through seem condescending and critical to their readers, but Get Money is like having a short, but serious, financial conversation over coffee with a friend who wants to see you succeed in all aspects of your life. The book is divided into chapters after which you “level up” and proceed to the next more challenging, more serious step in getting your money under control. I love that Wong provides no-nonsense advice along with worksheets to track your planning and money. The worksheets are in the book as well as on a website listed in the book so you can print them out to keep yourself organized!

For someone like me, turning something as tedious and boring as money management into a game is what works for me. I’m already applying some of the ideas Wong offers in the book to build up my savings and get a better handle on my goals and how I want to make my money work for me.

If you are wanting to learn some money management skills or just to get a few new ideas to boost your portfolio, check out Kristin Wong’s Get Money!

Many thanks to Hachette Books for sending me a free copy to review; all opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: A Moonless, Starless Sky, by Alexis Okeowo

BOOK REVIEW: A Moonless, Starless Sky, by Alexis OkeowoTitle: A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa by Alexis Okeowo
Published by Hachette Books
Published: October 3rd 2017
Genres: Cultural Studies
Pages: 256
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

In the tradition of Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Nothing to Envy, this is a masterful, humane work of literary journalism by New Yorker staff writer Alexis Okeowo--a vivid narrative of Africans, many of them women, who are courageously resisting their continent's wave of fundamentalism.

In A Moonless, Starless Sky Okeowo weaves together four narratives that form a powerful tapestry of modern Africa: a young couple, kidnap victims of Joseph Kony's LRA; a Mauritanian waging a lonely campaign against modern-day slavery; a women's basketball team flourishing amid war-torn Somalia; and a vigilante who takes up arms against the extremist group Boko Haram. This debut book by one of America's most acclaimed young journalists illuminates the inner lives of ordinary people doing the extraordinary--lives that are too often hidden, underreported, or ignored by the rest of the world.

Alexis Okeowo’s A Moonless, Starless Sky writes about the lives of four individuals in Nigeria, Somalia, Mauritania and Uganda who are resisting against the extremisms they each face. Okeowo, a first generation Nigerian-American, manages to deftly weave hope and inspiration in her solemn, yet conversational, exploration of the bravery and courage these four individuals face in abject terror.

The four narratives are about an LRA child soldier and the girl forced to marry him, a man and his fight against slavery in modern Mauritania, a group fighting Boko Haram, and a Somalian young woman’s struggle for the right to continue playing basketball. While each of the stories were eye-opening to read, the story about the Somalian young woman finding friendship, companionship, and fulfillment in playing basketball tugged at my heart-strings the most. To us here in the US, something so commonplace as playing basketball doesn’t register as a forbidden activity for anyone, but for her, it was a forbidden activity, because she is Muslim, because she is female. Her struggle to pursue her dreams resonated with me so much.

Okeowo writes the lives of each of these individuals with clarity, empathy, and respect; she writes their stories with unflinching insight to their struggles and triumphs. This book will certainly raise awareness to events happening beyond our media’s reach and inspire people to take action. It’s an absolute must read.

Many thanks to Hachette for sending me a copy of this book to review! All opinions are my own.