society

In the 1970s, the United States had an incarceration rate comparable to those of other liberal democracies-and that rate had held steady for over 100 years. Yet today, though the US is home to only about 5 percent of the world's population, we hold nearly one quarter of its prisoners. Mass incarceration is now widely considered one of the biggest social and political crises of our age. How did we get to this point?

Locked In is a revelatory investigation into the root causes of mass incarceration by one of the most exciting scholars in the country. Having spent fifteen years studying the data on imprisonment, John Pfaff takes apart the reigning consensus created by Michelle Alexander and other reformers, revealing that the most widely accepted explanations-the failed War on Drugs, draconian sentencing laws, an increasing reliance on private prisons-tell us much less than we think.

Rick Wartzman is director of the KH Moon Center for a Functioning Society at the Drucker Institute, a part of Claremont Graduate University. He also writes about the world of work for Fortune magazine online. Before joining the Drucker Institute in 2007 as its founding executive director, Rick worked for two decades as a reporter, editor and columnist at The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times.

In his new book, The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America, Wartzman chronicles the erosion of the relationship between American companies and their workers. Through the stories of four major employers--General Motors, General Electric, Kodak, and Coca-Cola--he shows how big businesses once took responsibility for providing their workers and retirees with an array of social benefits.

As humans, we all need to belong. While modern social life can make even the best of us feel gawky, for roughly one in five of us, navigating its challenges is consistently overwhelming -- an ongoing maze without an exit. Often unable to grasp social cues or master the skills and grace necessary for smooth interaction, we feel out of sync with those around us. Though individuals may recognize their awkward disposition, they rarely understand why they are like this -- which makes it hard for them to know how to adjust their behavior.

Psychologist and interpersonal relationship expert Ty Tashiro knows what it’s like to be awkward. His new book is Awkward: The Science of Why We're Socially Awkward and Why That's Awesome.

Jared Diamond is a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He began his scientific career in physiology and expanded into evolutionary biology and biogeography. He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.

Among Dr. Diamond's many awards are the National Medal of Science, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, Japan's Cosmos Prize, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and the Lewis Thomas Prize honoring the Scientist as Poet, presented by Rockefeller University. He has published more than six hundred articles and several books including the New York Times bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

The 20th anniversary edition of Guns, Germs, and Steel features a new afterward by Diamond.

Why is a course on ancient Chinese philosophers one of the most popular at Harvard? Because it challenges all our modern assumptions about what it takes to flourish.

Astonishing teachings emerged two thousand years ago through the work of a succession of Chinese scholars exploring how humans can improve themselves and their society. And what are these counterintuitive ideas? Transformation comes not from looking within for a true self, but from creating conditions that produce new possibilities.

The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life is written by Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh. 

Our guest is Michael Puett -- the Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations and Chair of the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard University. He is the recipient of a Harvard College Professorship for excellence in undergraduate teaching and is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Science.

Veteran health journalist Mary Otto looks inside America’s mouth, revealing unsettling truths about our unequal society.

Her new book, Teeth, takes readers on a disturbing journey into America’s silent epidemic of oral disease, exposing the hidden connections between tooth decay and stunted job prospects, low educational achievement, social mobility, and the troubling state of our public health.

Mary Otto is the oral health topic leader for the Association of Health Care Journalists. She began writing about oral health at the Washington Post, where she worked for eight years covering social issues including health care and poverty. 

In What Love Is, philosopher Carrie Jenkins offers a bold new theory on the nature of romantic love that reconciles its humanistic and scientific components. Love can be a social construct (the idea of a perfect fairy tale romance) and a physical manifestation (those anxiety- inducing heart palpitations); we must recognize its complexities and decide for ourselves how to love.

Motivated by her own polyamorous relationships, she examines the ways in which our parameters of love have recently changed-to be more accepting of homosexual, interracial, and non-monogamous relationships-and how they will continue to evolve in the future. 

  In his new book, Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior, Jonah Berger explores the subtle, secret influences that affect the decisions we make—from what we buy, to the careers we choose, to what we eat.

Without our realizing it, other people’s behavior has a huge influence on everything we do at every moment of our lives, from the mundane to the momentous occasion. Even strangers have a startling impact on our judgments and decisions: our attitudes toward a welfare policy shift if we’re told it is supported by Democrats versus Republicans (even though the policy is the same in both cases).

  Charlotte Brontë famously lived her entire life in an isolated parsonage on a remote English moor with a demanding father and siblings whose astonishing childhood creativity was a closely held secret.

Drawing on letters unavailable to previous biographers, Harman depicts Charlotte’s inner life with absorbing, almost novelistic intensity in her new book, Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart.

  Juan Williams is a top political analyst for Fox News Channel and will be with us this morning to discuss his new book, We the People: The Modern-Day Figures Who Have Reshaped and Affirmed the Founding Fathers' Vision of America.

In the book, Williams tells us who would be on his modern day Mount Rushmore.

  Taylor Mac is a playwright, actor, singer-songwriter, performance artist, director and producer who is currently creating a 24-hour durational concert called, “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music.”

6 hours of the project, representing the six decades between 1836 and 1896, will be performed at MASS MoCA in North Adams Massachusetts this Saturday, April 9th from 4 to 10pm. Audience members are encouraged to come and going during the performance.

Taylor Mac was recently name-checked in a New York Magazine article about why New York Theater is thriving and The New York Times said “Fabulousness can come in many forms, and Taylor Mac seems intent on assuming each and every one of them.”

  In Winner-Take-All Politics, Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson explained how political elites have enabled and propelled plutocracy.

Now in American Amnesia, they trace the economic and political history of the United States over the last century and show how a viable mixed economy has long been the dominant engine of America’s prosperity.

  Ira Chaleff is an author, speaker, workshop presenter and innovative thinker on the beneficial use of power between those who are leading and those who are following in any given situation. He is the founder of the International Leadership Association's Followership Learning Community and a member of the ILA board of directors. He is also the founder and president of Executive Coaching & Consulting Associates, which provides coaching, consulting, and facilitation to companies, associations, and agencies throughout the Washington, DC area.

His groundbreaking book, The Courageous Follower: Standing Up To and For Our Leaders, is in its third edition, has been published in multiple languages and is in use in institutions around the globe including educational, corporate, government and military organizations.

Ira's latest book, Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You're Told To Do Is Wrong, is once again breaking new ground by exploring the deep cultural roots of obedience and how to equip individuals of all ages to resist inappropriate orders and find better ways and ethical means of achieving legitimate goals.

  In recent decades, America has been waging a veritable war on fat in which not just public health authorities, but every sector of society is engaged in constant “fat talk” aimed at educating, badgering, and ridiculing heavy people into shedding pounds. We hear a great deal about the dangers of fatness to the nation, but little about the dangers of today’s epidemic of fat talk to individuals and society at large. The human trauma caused by the war on fat is disturbing - and it is virtually unknown.

Susan Greenhalgh is Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University. In her book, Fat-Talk Nation, Greenhalgh shows how the war on fat has produced a generation of young people who are obsessed with their bodies and whose most fundamental sense of self comes from their size.

  Every year, perhaps even every week, there is some new gadget, device, service, or other digital offering intended to make our lives easier, better, more fun, or more instantaneous–making it that much harder to question how anything digital can be bad for us. Digital has created some wonderful things and we can hardly imagine life without them.

But digital—the most relentless social and economic juggernaut humanity has unleashed in centuries—is also destroying much of what we’ve taken for granted.

In Digital is Destroying Everything, Andrew Edwards takes us on a tour of today’s “blasted heath”, where many things we’ve held dear have been uprooted or entirely changed by digital–and where many new and intriguing flora and fauna are sprouting.

  After a decade designing technologies meant to address education, health, and global poverty, award-winning computer scientist Kentaro Toyama came to a difficult conclusion: Even in an age of amazing technology, social progress depends on human changes that gadgets can’t deliver.

He writes about it in his book, Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology .

How has America become the most unequal advanced country in the world? And what can we do about it? In the new book The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them, Joseph Stiglitz expands on the diagnosis he offered in his book The Price of Inequality and suggests ways to counter America’s growing problem. 

The Nobel Prize Winning Economist and the best-selling author, Joseph Stiglitz, joins The Roundtable this morning.

  More than thirty years ago, Christopher Lasch hinted at this bleak world in his landmark book, The Culture of Narcissism. In The Impulse Society, Paul Roberts shows how that self-destructive pattern has grown so pervasive that anxiety and emptiness are becoming embedded in our national character.

Yet it is in this unease that Roberts finds clear signs of change—and broad revolt as millions of Americans try step off the self-defeating treadmill of gratification and restore a sense of balance.

Listener Essay - Mother's Day Retort

May 9, 2014

  Kate Cohen is a writer and editor in Albany, New York. You can find more of her work at katecohen.net.

  From the frigid trans-Siberian railroad to the antiquated Indian Railways to the futuristic MagLev trains, Tom Zoellner offers a stirring story of man’s relationship with trains. In Train: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World—from the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief, he examines both the mechanics of the rails and their engines and how they helped societies evolve. Not only do trains transport people and goods in an efficient manner, but they also reduce pollution and dependency upon oil.

Zoellner also considers America’s culture of ambivalence to mass transit, using the perpetually stalled line between Los Angeles and San Francisco as a case study in bureaucracy and public indifference.