September-October 2019 | Bethesda Magazine

Book Report

New works by local authors cover immigration, education and more

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Outlaw-Ocean Ian Urbina spent the last two years traveling the high seas on boats from places including the coast of the Arctic as well as Somalia, Indonesia and Brazil to research The Outlaw Ocean (Knopf, August 2019). The book, based on Urbina’s 2015 and 2016 New York Times series of the same title and including 70 percent new material, tells stories of lawlessness and exploitation at sea. Urbina, who lives in Chevy Chase, D.C., writes about forced labor on ships in the South China Sea and an environmental group’s dramatic 100-day pursuit of a well-known fishing scofflaw. “There is a diversity of criminal behavior out there, and the spectrum of activity is much broader than most people realize…murder of stowaways, intentional dumping of oil, arms trafficking,” he says. “Some of the characters were heroic, a lot of them not.”’

ConstitutionWith so much talk in the news about what Congress, the president and the courts can and can’t do, attorney and law professor Kim Wehle says she saw an opportunity to use her expertise to explain to the public the separation of powers outlined in the U.S. Constitution. The author of How to Read the Constitution and Why (HarperCollins, June 2019) writes about the complex document in simple, nonpartisan terms, urging readers to grasp the theory behind its intention to keep the government in check and accountable. “Our constitutional democracy is hanging on by a thread. It happens as a slow drip,” says Wehle, of Chevy Chase. “People need to pay attention or we will lose it.”


Good-ProviderA Good Provider Is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21st Century (Penguin Random House, August 2019) tells the story of a large extended family as it moves from an impoverished community in the Philippines to the suburbs of Houston. Author Jason DeParle met the family when he was a young reporter in the 1980s, and wrote about its journey as the politics of immigration evolved in the United States. He dispels the idea that immigrants take jobs from Americans as he chronicles the family’s success and assimilation. “There are a lot of stories in the country of positive global incorporation of immigrants that we tend to overlook amid bitter controversies of illegal immigration,” says DeParle, a resident of Chevy Chase.

Knowledge-GapNatalie Wexler says schools often place too much emphasis on teaching reading skills to younger students and not enough on what they are reading. “It’s hard to get kids excited about inferences or the difference between a caption and subtitle,” says Wexler, the author of The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System—and How to Fix It (Avery, August 2019). “We underestimate what kids are capable of doing.” In her book, the author describes innovative elementary schools that focus more on providing a rich diet of history, science and the arts instead of comprehension drills that she calls “empty calories.” Wexler, who lives in Northwest Washington, D.C., argues that such content can help level the playing field for students from low-income families who lack the basic knowledge that other students may have.