Sunday Salon: Reading the Spectrum

In preparation for my honors thesis I have begun to pull together a list of books I would like to read before I begin committing anything to paper. Books that lay the foundation for what I would like to study; books that cover the history and development of America’s food system. I have read a few of these books already but there are still many more titles I have yet to even hear of.

As I have constructed this list, though, questions keep popping into my head: When you read nonfiction, do you read books that challenge your notions, stereotypes, and ideals? Or, do you typically read books that confirm what you hold to be true?

I do not believe this is a question only for those of us in academia. Take, for example, the question of the world’s poor.

I read the first half of Poor Economics by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo for an economics class on development I took this semester. The authors attempt to reexamine the questions (and answers) about (foreign) aid and the poor as presented in Jeffrey D. Sachs’ The End of Poverty and William Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden. Placing these three titles on the spectrum of left equals liberal and right equals conservative, the books would fall as follows:

(Admittedly, I am making these placements having not read the entirety of these books but on selected chapters from these titles, other papers/articles by the authors, and videos featuring the authors as well as their characterizations in Poor Economics and my professor’s presentation.)

The End of Poverty ended up on my TBR list due to the message while The White Man’s Burden sits there because of its sensational title. But there is a fourth title I did not place on my TBR list before taking this class – Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo. Moyo calls for the end of aid and for free markets to help “aid-dependent” countries. This book, obviously, belongs on the right hand side of our spectrum. As such, I have little interest in reading this book. I disagree with its premise and worry the book would leave me frustrated beyond belief.

But this also means I am cherry-picking my nonfiction to fit my beliefs. How can I expect to challenge myself and learn something new if I avoid Dead Aid? If this was the topic of my thesis, how could I expect to present a complete picture? I now feel compelled to read Dead Aid.

I know people lament starting nonfiction books only to find they have an agenda, but how does one avoid placing their own agenda on their selections? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this issue so, please, leave a comment below.

The Sunday Salon:

The Sunday Salon.com The Sunday Salon encourages bloggers to get together –at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones– every Sunday and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on each other’s blogs. Salon participants are encouraged to blog about their time spent reading, pages read, information about current reading, discuss a reaction to a book, state what they plan to read the following week, or make suggestions for a group read.

3 comments

  1. I don’t think you can avoid placing your own agenda on your selections. I think it’s best to just be open and know what the other side of the spectrum is saying about the issue. If you read Dead Aid, you could also state why the author’s viewpoint about the subject isn’t misinformed. Dead Aid is a book that received a lot of publicity when it was first published. So much so that many people probably went out and read that book over the others you stated. I didn’t even know that it could be labeled as coming from a conservative viewpoint. Let us know us whether or not you end up reading it.

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  2. I tend to avoid non-fiction outside my political and religious believes. It might make me less tolerant, but from previous experiences, I know I just get too upset, especially if they’re popular ones like Dead Aid.

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  3. Pingback: The Crisis Caravan by Linda Polman | Ardent Reader

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