Saturday, October 31, 2009

How Ordinary People Can Change the World

I've promised not just to flack my titles on this page, but I did say I was going to tell you about them now and again. That's what makes you publish a book--the urge to share it with other readers.

The one that's on my mind today is The Union of Their Dreams by Miriam Pawel. The Los Angeles Times reviews it this coming Sunday and calls it a "masterpiece." I agree. It reminds me of classics like Anthony Lukas’s COMMON GROUND, or Randy Shilts’ AND THE BAND PLAYED ON in the way it weaves a narrative from the stories of ordinary people that you come to care about intensely.

The story of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers is one of the great American struggles for social justice, an astonishingly successful movement built from scratch. Miriam tells it through the experience of eight people who became key players in the UFW, from workers who learned organizing in the fields, to idealistic lawyers, ministers, and college kids. They found meaning and passion in "The Cause," and did incredible things, including leading the most effective consumer boycotts in history.

The book is a tour de force of reporting and narrative – not only did Miriam interview scores of key players in the story, she found an amazing trove of written records, including verbatim transcripts of meetings at Union headquarters. Reading these pages, you feel like you're there in the room, and you understand how these ordinary people came together to change the world. There's a tragic aspect to the story too--for more on that read the book or the LAT review. But I defy anyone not to be inspired by The Union of Their Dreams.

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