January 2020


Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (New York: Broadway Books), 2016

Matthew Desmond did some serious scholarship preparing this book. He lived in some of the most impoverished neighborhoods of Milwaukee to study how families fall off the edge of renting into homelessness. He tells the stories of real people who are living on almost nothing, with rent consuming such a large portion of their income that everything seems to be a nearly impossible challenge. He examines how the most run-down properties produce the highest incomes for landlords, how eviction is a tool used by mobile home parks to keep profits high and avoid making necessary repairs. And he tells the stories of people.

Unfortunately the stories he tells are occurring all across this country as national safety nets fall short and people are caught in impossible situations because housing simply is not a high enough national priority for us to solve the problem. He also tells the story of determination, resourcefulness and amazing intelligence in the face of hardship.

Desmond is a serious scholar, a MacArthur "Genius" grant recipient and it isn't hard to understand how his book earned the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. This is a must-read for anyone who is serious about learning about homelessness and poverty in the United States.

Much as it seems that this book would be one of despair, the book in fact is quite hopeful. Desmond introduces us to people whose circumstances may be desperate, but whose resilience is incredible. Developing more understanding of the problem gives us insight into possible solutions and ways in which changes in public policy can light the way to a brighter future for all.

The Frozen Frontier

Jane Maufe, the Frozen Frontier: Polar Bound through the Northwest Passage (London: Adlard Coles Nautical), 2017

David Scott Cowper had fully proven himself as an intrepid sailor before he invited Jane Maufe to join him on the adventure of bringing his expedition vessel, Polar Bound through the Northwest Passage, traversing from west to east. Cowper had already made transits of five of the seven routes through the Northwest Passage. This book chronicles the sixth route. Sailors in private boats do not often tackle such arduous and technically challenging routes. Maufe served as a crew member for the passage and they saw some extreme and adventurous sailing.

Maufe also gives good biographical insights into Cowper, showing his steely determination, humility and his resourcefulness when facing a challenge. She also reports on the fascinating relationship between her and Cowper, who had clearly defined roles during the passage and in their relationship.

Two very adventurous and ambitious people become dedicated to the ship, to each other, and to the journey. It is a truly fascinating account and well worth the read for anyone who is interested in exploration, adventure and sailing.