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The Five Books You Would Take To A Desert Island And Why

August 20, 2000

Joe R. Hicks is executive director of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission.

1. "A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.," edited by James Melvin Washington.

This single volume contains all of Dr. King's speeches and sermons. I go back to it a great deal to renew my batteries. It is a wellspring of the basic things I believe in, regarding the world and hope and how we can overcome the racial stupidity we find ourselves mired in too often.

2. "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63" and "Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65," by Taylor Branch

Here are back-to-back volumes that track the civil rights movement from 1954 to a cutoff point right before the assassination of Dr. King. They comprise an amazingly detailed recounting of America's equivalent of the Berlin Wall's coming down.

3. "Liberal Racism," by Jim Sleeper

This terrific book chronicles the increasing disarray of America's liberal movement, which has landed upon rocky shoals and is unable to determine its role in the continuing transformation of American society. It underlines how the civil rights movement in this country may not be living up to its grand old traditions.

4. "Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies," by Jared Diamond

This book explains why, in fact, the world's resources are arrayed the way they are and how the Western world came to dominate the planet. It had nothing to do with skin color or genetics and everything to do with the Europeans' ability to manufacture and control gunpowder and weapons, the dangerous microorganisms they carried with them to other regions and the edge they had in resources and geography to help spur the Industrial Revolution.

5. "America in Black and White: One Nation Indivisible," by Stephan Thernstrom and Abigail M. Thernstrom

The popular conception is that America did not begin to face its racist past until the 1950s and 1960s. Not so, according to this controversial book, which shows how the nation began to make significant strides toward civil rights and justice before and during World War II. Widely misinterpreted as just another neoconservative take on social change in America, this book sustains my soul, even as it makes me angry and forces me to question and grow.

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