Below you will find my review of Cory Booker's book United. I finished it a few weeks ago and rather than waiting to get it perfect, I'm going to share it with you now bumps, bruises, incomplete thoughts and all.
The book really had an impact on me, and I'm still thinking about the take-away lessons that resonated with me. I am trying to channel my inner-Cory Booker in all I do, and his book has given me much to think about as I contemplate mid-life.
Senator Booker, I apologize for this half-assed attempt at a book review. Your book moved me and gives me hope.
I can tell you the exact day I became a big fan of Cory Booker, March 5, 2016. If you caught him on NPR's quiz show Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me as I did, it was hard not to become a fan. He bantered easily with the host, and was funny and engaging in a way that one might find a bit unexpected from a United States senator. What's not to like about that? While I knew a bit about Senator Booker, it was the Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me broadcast that left me wanting to find out more.
My curiosity led to a web search, which revealed a ton of information on Senator Booker. After checking out a few articles, I decided that reading his recently published book, United, was a must. It took me several weeks to getting around to picking up the book, but it was worth the wait. I found United to be very inspiring with many passages worth underlining.
A Need for Connection
United starts by outlining Senator Booker's journey from his childhood and education to his work in Newark, NJ where he first worked as tenants' right lawyer before becoming a city council member and eventually mayor to his current role as United States senator. While much of the book is anecdotes about his experiences in Newark, what really resonated with me was his emphasis on our need to empathize and connect with others.
Senator Booker reminds us that as Americans, our similarities are stronger than our differences. This is something that resonated with me as we march through another election cycle fueled by fear with an ever widening gulf between people of different beliefs, backgrounds and lifestyles.
He makes the excellent point that many great moments in history - ending slavery, getting women the right to vote, etc. - happened because of the work of many rather than an individual. An old African proverb he quotes summarizes it perfectly, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
Independence is an especially strong part of who we are as Americans and that sentiment is especially prevalent in folks living in the Western United States. I have often wondered if our strong sense of independence (coupled with our massive population) is fueling the growing discontent and disconnectedness of our country. It is reassuring to see an individual such as Senator Booker, who holds an esteemed position within the United States government, sees connection to others as essential and uses this belief to guide his actions.
Combining Your Personal Ethic with the Communal Ethic
As a young man, Senator Booker was posed with the question, what would he do if he could not fail? To quote the book,
"Ask yourself what would you do if you could not fail. If you knew for sure you would be successful, what would you do? Who would you be, how would you behave, how would you feel, how would you serve? Answer that question. Feel that. Act like that. And even if you do fail, I promise you that you will be better for it."Given the risks he has taken and the path his life followed, it is obvious he took these words to heart. I think of the potential for our society if we all did that.
"This book is a conspiracy of love"
This is one of the sentiments expressed at the end of the book. Throughout United, Senator Booker reflects on all of the individuals who "conspired" to help him and his family and have played an important role in the lives they went on to lead. Senator Booker goes on to pay-it-forward by showing compassion to so many. Another idea we should all take to heart.