Philippa Thomas Online

Occasional thoughts about life, books and news.


1 Comment

Whose #Detroit is it anyway? a story of #Race and #RealEstate

“This is a kind of self-obsession”.

He is self obsessed.  Annoying.  A thirtysomething Yale graduate drifting through life.  A white outsider who stumbles his way through this claustrophobic drama set in a semi-derelict stretch of Detroit.

But his story is a very good read.

The narrator of “You Don’t Have to Live Like This” is Greg Marnier.  He doesn’t know where he stands between insiders and newcomers, dispossessed and profiteer, above all between black and white.  Mostly, ‘Marny’ doesn’t want those “sides” to exist at all, and the reader has to decide whether he’s simply naive or somehow stoking the tensions as the story builds to its racially charged climax.  Continue reading


Leave a comment

Is it really so bad to be American? On “Time to Start Thinking”.

Is it really so bad to be American? 

“Faith in America’s promise is at the heart of America’s story”. 

There’s not much evidence of that faith in Edward Luce’s epic analysis of “America and the Spectre of Decline”.  But as the title has it, “Time to Start Thinking”.  Right now, Obama and the Republicans aren’t thinking, but fighting over the looming fiscal cliff.  Luce urges them to the long view. By 2020, China might overtake the USA as the world’s biggest economy.  

It’s an excellent read: clear, crisp, packed full of original interviews.  It matters, because as Luce quotes Samuel Huntingdon, America “can only be a disappointment because it is also a hope”.

The book focusses on three key disappointments –  in manufacturing, innovation, and education.  Continue reading


Leave a comment

The Warmth of Other Suns

I thought I knew the outlines of America’s racial history, from the battles of the civil war to the struggles for civil rights. I knew very little.  Isabel Wilkerson’s book helped me imagine the inside story, and absorb some astonishing details. 

It’s a great read about America’s 20th century “great migration”, the outflow of around six million black southerners over six decades.  It’s a vast “macro” book that’s anchored in three “micro” stories about Ida Mae, George and Pershing – ordinary characters who did the extraordinary thing of leaving everything they knew, risking punishment or worse, and heading north. Continue reading