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Working on the Chain Gang

Shaking Off the Dead Hand of History
A non fiction book by

Breaking the Chains

In a stirring call to thought and action, Walter Mosley offers a bold vision for America in Workin' on the Chain Gang, his new nonfiction volume. With fiery passion and cerebral precision, the ever-nimble Mosley weaves fresh perspectives on history, culture, race, capitalism, and the ballot box. Any wonder that he also announces his platform for presidency?

Best known for his standout fiction, Mosley delivers here an invigorating, prickly state of the millennial nation address. Setting aside the realms of Easy Rawlins and Socrates Fortlow, he talks plainly and forcefully about how to remedy modern society. His powerful answers will engage some and enrage others. And his catalytic questions are destined to spark debate.

"The baby born at midnight in the first time zone to cross us over into the next millennium will have been a magic baby, his or her photograph sold and shown all around the world. But in two years, when that baby's neighbor is dying from starvation, war wounds, or disease, no one will notice and no one will care, because death due to these all too regular occurrences is mundane. That death won't sell a newspaper or a TV ad, but a quirk of the clock will."

The inanities of pop culture (and what passes for news) are ripe targets for Mosley's withering pen. More Americans can name the characters of "Seinfeld" than their state's national-level politicians. Shadows win out over substance, fluff trumping issues handily. Even more offensive are the multinational corporations that propagate a faulty consumerism ideology, divorced of consequence and responsibility.

"Through PlayStation, McDonald's, various arms and aircraft dealers, Hollywood's big and little screens, and our excellently equipped armed forces, we still dominate the world's economy, culture, and hopes. When America falls down on its education, when our new crop of citizens can't add, we just import mathematicians from the former USSR and China."

Feel like a cog in someone else's wheel? A drone, lacking voice or vision? Throughout his cogent rallying cry, Mosley returns to the African experience in America, for he sees stark parallels between slavery's bitter legacy and current national concerns. Politely put, economic disenfranchisement is a toxin that corrodes all it touches. Until the history is aired, shared, lessons will go unlearned, and the toxin will spread.

"The slaves in America and the serfs in Russia were freed at about the same time. The chains were laid out in front of them, and the doors to the plantation were opened wide. Most slaves, most serfs, stayed on the plantation of their own accord, not because they liked it but because survival seemed reliant upon servitude.

"I don't believe that white attention to black history should be couched in contrite guilt. Our history is a subject just like any other taught in school. In this study, one should learn from the pitfalls and advances. Black American history, I say again, is American history. There is an echo of Jim Crow in the HMO: people shunted aside, denied access, and allowed to suffer with no real democratic recourse. Black history can't address every issue, but it can certainly talk about refusing to go another step without an accounting. It can show you how each man, woman, and child can be an impediment to injustice."

Not content merely to point out what is wrong, Mosley offers tangible proposals for fixing that which is broken, one of them as revolutionary and subversive as it is simple: As an experiment in sparking communication at home, turn off the television, and also forego attending any spectator sports. For three months. Break the spell. Without these passive pacifiers, how will we fill our evenings and weekends? Without the mediated community to bind us, how will we knit fresh connections? More than likely, people will discover the active joys of conversing, walking, reading. From this beginning, intriguing possibilities await.

Mosley wraps up his appeal with a declaration of principles, the foundation of his presidential platform. Whether he truly aspires to the Oval Office or not, his ideals resonate with refreshing candor, and should be welcomed for their honesty. After castigating both parties for decades of pocket-lining and image manipulation, he offers tangible dreams as the guiding light for his candidacy:

"Most voters don't really care about a pretty face, but you better believe they'd turn out for the cure for cancer; they'd be casting their votes for an extra ten years of life. What I want is freedom to share in the incredible wealth of our minds. I'm not talking material ownership here. What I'm saying is that our citizens should have equal access to the advantages we discover. Medical care, education, a living wage, and peace of mind should be available for everyone."

After twice reading Workin' on the Chain Gang, I'm voting for Walter.

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Used availability for Walter Mosley's Working on the Chain Gang

Hardback Editions

January 2000 : USA Hardback

Title: Workin' on the Chain Gang: Shaking Off the Dead Hand of History (Library of Contemporary Thought)
Author(s): Walter Mosley
ISBN: 0-345-43069-7 / 978-0-345-43069-4 (USA edition)
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   Amazon AU   

Paperback Editions

December 2006 : USA Paperback

Title: Workin' on the Chain Gang: Shaking Off the Dead Hand of History (Class : Culture)
Author(s): Walter Mosley
ISBN: 0-472-03198-8 / 978-0-472-03198-6 (USA edition)
Publisher: University of Michigan Press
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   Amazon AU   

Audio Editions

January 2000 : USA Audio Cassette

Title: Working on the Chain Gang: Shaking Off the Dead Hand of History (Library of Contemporary Thought)
Author(s): Walter Mosley
ISBN: 0-7871-1885-0 / 978-0-7871-1885-3 (USA edition)
Publisher: Dove Entertainment Inc
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   Amazon AU