PPCA’s Book Club gatherings are open to all who have read that month’s book. Typically we start out discussing the book, and inevitably someone relates a theme in the book to their own experiences or other readings, so the conversation takes an interesting turn. Our Book Club discusses books of broad interest set in parts of the world in which Peace Corps Volunteers have served, or books which were authored by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). We love author appearances! Between 2010 and 2019, we have hosted or will host 34 different authors – in person, by phone, or via Skype.
Here are our next three book discussions:
Walker, Peter*: Sagebrush Collaboration: How Harney County, Oregon, Defeated the Takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (2018)
* RPCV Sierra Leone 1986-1988
Discussion: Thursday, June 4, 2020, 6:30-8:00 pm. Online meeting via Zoom; e-mail bookclub AT crpca.org for the login information. Participating in our discussion will be Peter Walker, the book’s author!
Synopsis: Every American is co-owner of the most magnificent estate in the world—federal public forests, grazing lands, monuments, national parks, wildlife refuges, and other public places. The writer Wallace Stegner famously referred to public lands as “America’s best idea,” but there have always been some who oppose the idea for ideological reasons, or because they have a vested economic interest. In the current decade, federal public lands have been under physical threat as never before, with armed standoffs and takeovers that the US government has proved stunningly unsuccessful at prosecuting in federal courts. One such incident was the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, in 2016. Armed militants seized the headquarters of the refuge for forty-one days and occupied the community for three months. Militants threatened and harassed local residents, pledging to “give back” the land to unnamed “rightful owners” in their effort to enact a fringe interpretation of the US Constitution. Drawing on more than two years of intensive fieldwork, Sagebrush Collaboration shows that the militants failed in their objectives because the sensible and hardworking citizens of Harney County had invested decades in collaboratively solving the very problems that the militia used to justify their anti–federal government revolution. In Sagebrush Collaboration, Peter Walker offers the first book-length study of why the 2016 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge failed. His nuanced and deeply researched account provides the full context for the takeover, including the response from local and federal officials and the grassroots community resistance. It will be essential reading for years to come for anyone who wants to understand the ongoing battle over the future of America’s public lands.
Kallman, Meghan Elizabeth: The Death of Idealism: Development and Anti-Politics in the Peace Corps (2020)
Discussion: Wednesday, July 15, 2020, 4:00-5:30 pm. Online meeting via Zoom; e-mail bookclub AT crpca.org for the login information. Participating in our discussion will be Meghan Elizabeth Kallman, the book’s author!
Synopsis: Peace Corps volunteers seem to exemplify the desire to make the world a better place. Yet despite being one of history’s clearest cases of organized idealism, the Peace Corps has, in practice, ended up cultivating very different outcomes among its volunteers. By the time they return from the Peace Corps, volunteers exhibit surprising shifts in their political and professional consciousness. Rather than developing a systemic perspective on development and poverty, they tend instead to focus on individual behavior; they see professions as the only legitimate source of political and social power. They have lost their idealism, and their convictions and beliefs have been reshaped along the way. The Death of Idealism uses the case of the Peace Corps to explain why and how participation in a bureaucratic organization changes people’s ideals and politics. Meghan Elizabeth Kallman offers an innovative institutional analysis of the role of idealism in development organizations. She details the combination of social forces and organizational pressures that depoliticizes Peace Corps volunteers, channels their idealism toward professionalization, and leads to cynicism or disengagement. Kallman sheds light on the structural reasons for the persistent failure of development organizations and the consequences for the people involved. Based on interviews with over 140 current and returned Peace Corps volunteers, field observations, and a large-scale survey, this deeply researched, theoretically rigorous book offers a novel perspective on how people lose their idealism, and why that matters.
Eggers, Dave: What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng (2006)
Discussion: Wednesday, August 12, 2020, 6:30-8:00 pm. Location at the home of Carol McCormac Wild, 7865 SW Parrway Dr in Portland, 503-292-3385. Feel free to bring snacks to share.
Review: © Publishers Weekly: Valentino Achak Deng, real-life hero of this engrossing epic, was a refugee from the Sudanese civil war-the bloodbath before the current Darfur bloodbath-of the 1980s and 90s. In this fictionalized memoir, Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) makes him an icon of globalization. Separated from his family when Arab militia destroy his village, Valentino joins thousands of other “Lost Boys,” beset by starvation, thirst and man-eating lions on their march to squalid refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, where Valentino pieces together a new life. He eventually reaches America, but finds his quest for safety, community and fulfillment in many ways even more difficult there than in the camps: he recalls, for instance, being robbed, beaten and held captive in his Atlanta apartment. Eggers’s limpid prose gives Valentino an unaffected, compelling voice and makes his narrative by turns harrowing, funny, bleak and lyrical. The result is a horrific account of the Sudanese tragedy, but also an emblematic saga of modernity-of the search for home and self in a world of unending upheaval.
Most of our books are selected by an annual survey, featuring curated options from books widely available in local libraries. We schedule additional discussions when an author of a non-self-published book offers to meet with us. If you are interested in learning more about PPCA’s Book Club, please contact Bill Stein, at 503-830-0817 or bookclub AT crpca.org.