Want to hear a good story? Here’s one: Back in December 1970, Angela Davis, who has published two books with Seven Stories, was in jail accused of having purchased guns that were used in a courtroom escape attempt by seventeen-year-old Jonathan Jackson, who was hoping to free his older brother, George Jackson, from Soledad Prison. The incident left four people dead. Jet magazine reported that singer Aretha Franklin, then at the height of her stardom, wanted to make bail for Davis, no matter how much it cost: “My daddy says I don’t know what I’m doing. Well, I respect him, of course, but I’m going to stick to my beliefs. Angela Davis must go free. Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people. I have the money; I got it from Black people—they’ve made me financially able to have it—and I want to use it in ways that will help our people.” Columbia University professor Farah Jasmine Griffin spoke recently to Angela Davis for the Nation and here’s how Davis put it: “The fact that she championed the cause of my freedom had a profound impact on the campaign, especially because her statement inferred that people should not fear being associated with a communist, rather they should be concerned about justice…. Her bold public call for justice in my case helped in a major way….” Griffin adds, “Born just two years apart, Davis and Franklin represented the brilliance, militancy, and defiant beauty of their generation of black women. Franklin had no concern of losing her audience or future opportunities because of her support for a radical freedom fighter. She was protected by the times and her own sense of integrity and truth…. This is what we hear in Aretha’s voice. Truth….”
Back to 2018. In May we went to a preview performance of a one-man show called The Truth Has Changed by Josh Fox, who created and starred in Gasland, the beautiful documentary that, almost singlehandedly, has informed millions of people about the dangers to our land and our lives posed by fracking. We didn’t know Josh then, or anything more about the show or what to expect. But we walked out two hours later truly amazed. How often do you see political art that works on both levels, as art and as politics? Well, it’s what we need most in the world right now, and it’s rare to find it. Josh had achieved just that in Gasland. And in The Truth Has Changed, you could say he’s doing it again. Here, again, the world is at stake, human lives are being destroyed. But this time he’s taking on not one but a host of related themes: 9-11, Deepwater Horizon, Standing Rock, the 2016 presidential election, Cambridge Analytica—all events in which Josh was a participant at close range—and which have brought our grip on truth to the brink, and lowered our confidence that there even is such a thing as truth.
We decided that very evening that there had to be a book. Josh worked hard to make that happen, SSP made it happen fast. Bill McKibben agreed to write the introduction. This month, Josh begins his national tour of The Truth Has Changed, his one-man show. Look for him at Town Hall on November 1 in New York City, and at major and minor venues across the land in the coming months. The book is out, and it’s wonderful and in some ways different from the show. In a way, this has everything to do with the mid-term elections. And the larger fight that’s ongoing. We commend the book to you, and the show. There’s also an audiobook. It isn’t often that you get to have such a voice coming at you in real time and in so many ways, or at a moment of such decision.
Peter Phillips’s Giants: The Global Power Elite is another book I need to tell you about that’s completely, unexpectedly thrilling. Here, for the first time ever in print, Phillips names, and shows the investments of, the 389 most powerful players in world capitalism. Three things jump out right way as we read. First we have never heard of many of these individuals. They are money managers, or guiding PR or security firms, or sitting on policy-making groups like the Atlantic Council or the Trilateral Commission. Second, Peter doesn’t exactly excoriate them. Well, he does, but he also welcomes them to start helping us solve the problems we face globally, and even insisting that they do so. And third, and perhaps most importantly, what Peter teaches us in Giants is that there’s actually a reason, though not a good one, why world capitalism hasn’t been looking after the poor, or the environment, or even the rule of law. It is because they have been completely busy doing such a good job taking care of each other. And though this is certainly a morally inexcusable answer, it still does explain some things.
We remember that when Seven Stories published Noam Chomsky’s 9-11 only weeks after the destruction of the World Trade Center, the whole world took notice, and the book, besides selling over a million copies worldwide, came to define the dawn of a new political awareness of why things happen in global politics as they do (for control of oil in this case). Noam’s insights grew out of political philosophy, geopolitics, and a cold-eyed look at the morality of the world’s democracies. Much more recently we have read books like Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century and other titles that give us the views of economists. But Peter Phillips is a radical sociologist. And we haven’t had books that give us the view of contemporary radical sociologists in this way. And what’s breathtaking here is the number of things he tells us that no one has told us before. Partly, he is sharing facts and analyses that have emerged in sociology in recent years, but are not known in laymen’s circles. And partly he is just putting all the facts together in one place. Chomsky himself declares that he learned much from reading Giants. Chomsky writes, “Who exactly are the masters? This remarkable inquiry lifts the veil, providing detailed and often shocking revelations.” Others have compared the book to C. Wright Mills’s The Power Elite. Other early readers have called it a “brilliant exposé,” “meticulously documented,” and “a must-read for those who feel that system change is necessary.” Please get a hold of a copy.
On a very hopeful note, D. D. Guttenplan’s The Next Republic reminds us that change is already afoot across the land. The book follows seven change makers who are making a difference, picking up where Bernie Sanders left off, feeding and nourishing the majority of Americans who want ours to be a better country. Guttenplan alternates this contemporary story with historical chapters showing moments in U.S. history when, as now, the life of this country lay in the balance, and what can happen when that is the case. Guttenplan was, in many people’s opinion, the best national reporter covering the 2016 presidential election. Here he takes what he learned during that extraordinary year and sets it against the future that can be ours when the smoke clears at the end of this current administration. You can check out Guttenplan's events schedule here. He will be talking about The Next Republic in Chicago (with Carlos Ramirez-Rosa), Lincoln NE (with Nebraska Dem party chair Jane Kleeb), New York, San Francisco (with Michael Lerner), Seattle, Vermont, and Washington, DC. For more info on these and other events with D. D. Guttenplan, click here.
Another essential election-season read is Ralph Nader's To the Ramparts: How Bush and Obama Paved the Way for the Trump Presidency, and Why It Isn’t Too Late to Reverse the Damage, which brings together the outrages of the Trump administration with the key flaws and failures of the previous administrations—both Republican and Democratic—that have led us to this precipice. It's worth repeating the astounding fact that Nader has advanced or improved more impactful legislation—from the Clean Air Act to the Freedom of Information Act to OSHA and the EPA—than almost any sitting president or legislator. He’ll be speaking in Washington, DC, New York, and in Ottawa this fall. See all of Ralph's events here.
And lastly, there will be opportunities this fall to see and read three other Seven Stories authors: Quincy Troupe talking about his lifelong friendship with Miles Davis,* Ivana Bodrozic discussing her autobiographical novel of being a child during the Yugoslav Wars, The Hotel Tito,** and the highly praised new novel from Tony Award–winning playwright Yasmina Reza, Babylon.***
*True to the spirit of freedom Angela Davis speaks of and Aretha Franklin captured in song, the great African poet and journalist Quincy Troupe gives us Miles & Me, his very personal memoir of his friendship with Miles Davis and the influence Miles played on Quincy’s life. Quincy kicks off his tour at Brooklyn Public Library on September 26. Read Miles & Me for the sheer pleasure of getting to know Miles as Quincy knew him in the SSP paperback edition, or listen to the marvelous audiobook from Dreamscape Media.
**“Wonderful writing and personal insight make The Hotel Tito a unique kind masterpiece. A must-read testimony to the human spirit." —Eoin Colfer, bestselling author of the Artemis Fowl series. Bodrozic will visit Toronto’s OFOA festival, the Boston area, and New York. (Check back here for an update on the New York date.)
***“Reza is fascinated by what almost always remains unsaid: What happens if we dare to speak our minds? Babylon is darker and more mysterious than the plays that have brought her the most renown... ‘People who think there’s some orderly system to life—they’re lucky,’ Elisabeth reflects. Any reader who begins with such a belief will have it overturned by the end of Reza’s haunting little tale.” —Erica Wagner, The New York Times Book Review
With best wishes for the season ahead,