We’re going topical this month: These four books deal with the hard-hitting socio-political topics of our time, like the workings of the oil market, illegal immigrant labor, and America’s criminal rehabilitation system. These authors bring to their subjects both journalistic realism and entertaining, almost novelistic prose.


by Ben Mezrich

With his new release Rigged, hybrid thriller-writer/reporter Ben Mezrich tells the mostly- true- but- slightly- fictionalized- here- and- there- for- dramatic- purposes tale of John D’Agostino (named “David Russo” in the book), the man the Wall Street Journal labeled “Johnny of Arabia” after he went from being the youngest ever president of the New York Mercantile Exchange to the bearer of Western capitalism into the large and powerful Middle Eastern crude oil market. Mezrich, best known as the author of Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, here remains close to his pet theme of clever, ambitious wunderkinds making large financial coups in semi-legal fashions. His breathless narrative style tends to make even scenes that aren’t fraught with suspense, peril, and intrigue sound as if they are. On the way, he drops a few facts about how the most politically sensitive oil market in the world came to operate as it does today.

Oil on the Brain: Adventures from the Pump to the Pipeline

by Lisa Margonelli

Approaching a related topic from a very different angle, New America Foundation fellow Lisa Margonelli examines the oil market on a macro level in Oil on the Brain: Adventures from the Pump to the Pipeline. Beginning with the question of where that oil we buy actually comes from, Margonelli finds she has to take her search overseas for even the semblance of a coherent answer. And she doesn’t just hang around the Middle East hoping for a scion of oil wealth to pass by and let her in on the secret; her quest reaches out to Venezuela, Chad, Nigeria, and China, as well as to markets, refineries, and drilling sites right here in the United States. Margonelli’s is a respectable entry into the now-popular new breed of experiential journalism nonfiction where what before might have been the research for a book is now polished and presented as the book itself.

Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy

by John Bowe

Oil and its price may get a lot of attention from politicians, but let’s not forget illegal immigration, which receives nearly as much. Below-board immigrant labor certainly has its important prices as well: the low cost of it, which keeps the demand for illegal immigrants high, and the toll it takes on illegal immigrants themselves, which our next book argues is high, indeed. With a title like Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy, readers shouldn’t have too much trouble knowing what to expect. The fact that the cover bears a profusely positive blurb by Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation author and modern heir to the muckraking tradition, is another good indicator of its content. In Nobodies, Bowe casts himself in the role of the roving reporter, searching out exploitation and unfair (or worse) treatment wherever it might be found-Florida, Tulsa, Saipan- and criticizing any corporation that fails to stop it. Though Bowe does a hardy job of documenting the wrongs he unearths, he seems to be addressing an audience that’s quite left-wing already.

Last Chance in Texas: The Redemption of Criminal Youth

by John Hubner

There’s another group about whose plight readers don’t usually hear: teenage prison inmates. In Last Chance in Texas: The Redemption of Criminal Youth, journalist John Hubner steels himself to enter and explore the Giddings State School, long known as the facility of choice in which to break down the scariest, most violent teen offenders. Following the usual arc for this sort of thing, the author documents the stories of two particular inmates, both of whom slowly reveal their horrific pasts and ultimately begin come to terms with them. As tired a formula as this may be, Hubner documents his interactions with his two subjects and their incarcerated coterie with conversational, highly readable immediacy.


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