Beyond the Headlines | Featuring Technology and National Issues

From cyberattacks and idisorders to wrongful convictions and medical ethics, a selection of new nonfiction books provides depth and context to topics of current interest.
From cyberattacks and idisorders to wrongful convictions and medical ethics, a selection of new books provides depth and context to topics of current interest. The titles discussed challenge young adults to examine perspectives, and begin to think about some of the critical issues facing our world and nation. Technology cyber attackOutages and blips in major Internet systems affecting business and government highlight the vulnerability of critical national infrastructures. In Cyber Attack (Twenty-First Century, 2015; Gr 8 Up), Martin Gitlin and Margaret Goldstein delve into recent privacy and security breaches that have caused global consternation That criminals have kept ahead of the curve when it comes to hacking and cracking (terms first coined at MIT) is clear from the European hackers that were able to access Target’s 160 million customer credit cards in 2013, and the ability of a Chinese military command in gathering trade secrets and technical information from a metals manufacturing company in Pennsylvania. Edward Snowdon blew the whistle on his employer, the National Security Agency (NSA), whose practice of spying on people globally raised moral and ethical questions about personal privacy. New methods of encryption protect individuals, but also those using the Internet for criminal purposes. The book’s details about malware, botnets, worms, creepware will appeal to science buffs, whereas Brendan January’s companion title, Information Insecurity: Privacy Under Siege (Twenty-First Century, 2015; Gr 7 Up), targets an audience that’s more interested in what’s at stake in their social media lives, including apps that allow location and consumer tracking. This title will provide teens with a better understanding of digital features and how to balance them against issues of personal privacy. Both titles color block and chunk information, and use a variety of fonts, in a format that a range of readers will find both accessible and attractive. Interesting new theories about the effect of devices on brain development, physical health, privacy, social interaction, crime, and more, are discussed in How are Digital Devices Impacting Society? (Reference Point, 2015; Gr 8 Up) by Melissa Abramovitz. Experts note that an insatiable appetite for gadgets and the desire for newer and faster technologies have caused us to overlook the negative long-term effects of these devices such as social isolation, hacking and online theft, bullying, oversharing, impatience, and a host of other idisorders. Abramovitz taps a broad base of experts including neuroscientists, psychologists, and online security specialists while translating their insights into an accessible text. Fact boxes, an index, related organizations, quotes, and color photos add substance for researchers. Educators will want to check out the section devoted to digital overuse and its effect on language development and learning. drones2Recent advances in drone technology have put these remotely operated vehicles in consumers’ hands, with new concerns about their potential misuse. In Drones (Scholastic, 2014; Gr 5 Up), Martin J. Dougherty highlights the history, development, and purpose of specific military and civilian drones, such as the Predator, CropCam, and Firebee. Large color photos, “How Big is It?” infographics, and “Did You Know?” information targets a middle grade audience, and the narrative delivers basics about how these machines carry missiles and cameras, deliver small packages, and locate items below the ocean’s surface. Emphasis on safety and operator skill is a pervasive theme in this title, touching on potential dangers and need for rules governing commercial use. While the book does not tackle the social implications of ownership, it will be valued for boosting readers’ background knowledge on a topic that just keeps getting more interesting. social networkingIn her essay, “The Upside of Selfies: Social Media Isn’t All Bad for Kids,” CNN’s digital correspondent Kelly Wallace, states that she believes selfies can build self confidence, and provide opportunities for young people to do social good. Gender equality expert, Laura Bates, offers a contrary view in her chapter, “Social Networking Exposes Girls to Sexual Abuse,” which warns of websites such as, and that have become a hotbed for sexual pressure, even their founders cannot halt. These perspectives are just two of those offered in Daniel Gaetan-Beltran’s Social Networking (Greenhaven, 2015; Gr 7-10), which addresses younger teens’ preoccupation with social media. Chapters on social media in the classroom, and employing social networking for political change, highlight positive aspects about smarter and more cautious teen usage (such as with privacy settings). No source notes are provided for the wealth of statistics and research results offered, but each chapter’s original source is cited. Infographics, bulleted info, and color photos will help visual learners and appended resources include links to sites such as #protectmyrep on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which encourages teens to share their missteps and to learn safety basics. The “Issues That Concern You” series also includes new first edition titles Teens and Employment, Body Piercing and Tattoos, and Eating Disorders. “Is it only a game?” This question motivated Patricia D. Netzley to ask researchers and behavioral experts about the youth culture’s preoccupation with video games, in her investigation How Do Video Games Affect Society? (ReferencePoint, 2015; Gr 7 Up). Focusing on dozens of recent statistics and studies, Netzley found that young people spend as many hours gaming as they spend in school. While some studies have shown correlations between playing video games and negative behaviors—for example, that Grand Theft Auto players are more likely to have had traffic violations—another qualitative study found that video gamers feel more positive, engaged, vital, and resilient. The objective treatment concludes that there are plusses and minuses to gaming, supported by studies and with quotes from experts for readers to weigh before formulating their own opinions. The readable narrative is punctuated with color photos and sidebars, as well as additional resources suitable for a range of readers. Other titles in the “Video Games and Society” series include: The History of Video Games; Video Games and Youth; and Video Games, Violence, and Crime. National Issues painting for peace“Some people were mad/Some people were sad/But everyone, everywhere/Felt pretty bad.” Sparing youngest readers the graphic details of racial violence that occurred in Ferguson and St. Louis, MO, Carol Swartout Klein’s Painting for Peace in Ferguson (Layla Dog, 2015: K-Gr 2), captures the spirit of community goodwill that spread into the streets in the multihued, peace-themed images on boarded-up shops and buildings around Ferguson in the aftermath of the violence there. Rhyming verse carries the narrative about the participation of young and old, and hundreds of photos show how the vibrant images in the form of murals, window paintings, and messages of understanding that brightened up community spirits. A web link offers teaching tools for talking with children about civil unrest while reassuring them about their safety. One tip suggests acknowledging that most police want to protect and serve the community and legitimate protestors don’t loot and burn shops. While intended for the youngest of audiences, older students may be inspired to start art-based peace initiatives in their own locales. overturning wrongful convictionsThere has been much written lately about the problems plaguing our justice system, including the number of people incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. In Overturning Wrongful Convictions: Science Serving Justice (Twenty-First Century, 2015; Gr 9 Up), Elizabeth A. Murray touches on a few of the 1,400 individuals who have been exonerated in recent years in the United States and how science, particularly DNA testing, has helped to solve some of these cases. Despite improved forensic techniques, Murray points to myriad ways that a conviction could be wrongful, such as poor legal representation, attorney or police misconduct, procedural failures, or false testimony. Basics about the justice system alternate with case studies, such as one in 1980 where fingerprint evidence was withheld, despite the fact that it would have exonerated Kenny Waters from a rape conviction and 18 years in prison. Several advocacy organizations, such as the Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC), and the Innocence Project, have successfully enacted reform efforts. Student researchers will find many appended profiles, web links, source notes, and further information about this engrossing topic. A number of contributors debate Medical Ethics (Greenhaven, 2015; Gr 9 Up) and issues such as The Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 and right to accessible healthcare, and the controversies surrounding such subjects as reproductive technologies, organ transplants, and end-of-life decisions. Within each topic, a variety of viewpoints exhibit differences in style and nuanced argument, but defined titles make clear what position is being taken in such articles as “Public Health Insurance Programs are Immoral and Unaffordable,” written by an assistant professor of economics and excerpted from an original article published by the Foundation for Economic Education. The opposing viewpoint is presented in presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s “Healthcare is a Right and Must Be Provided to All Americans.” Other titles that will pique readers’ interests include “Cash for Kidneys,” “Designer Babies Aren’t Coming,” and “Should Doctors Participate in Executions?” Language and vocabulary is tailored to secondary students learning how to formulate their own opinions on newsworthy topics. The Other new editions in the “Current Controversies Series” cover the Death Penalty, Bullying, Racial Profiling, Gangs, Vegetarianism, Abortion, Same-Sex Marriage, and more. what is the futureFor-profit colleges, tuition-free higher education, the role of community colleges, and online educational equity are addressed in What is the Future of Higher Education? (Greenhaven, 2015; Gr 10 Up), a new title in “At Issue” series. Rather than a pro-con approach to one issue, the contributors, from doctoral students to college presidents to policy makers, address specific concerns and speculate about the future of higher education, as they see it. “The Dropout Rate of Community Colleges is Problematic,” suggests many college freshmen cannot manage post-secondary work without the academic support they were accustomed to in high school. The thought-provoking essays often ask more questions than they answer, such as how to tackle increased inequality, or how much will technology change the way we learn. Other new volumes in the series include: What Are the Jobs of the Future? Poverty in America, Manufacturing Jobs in the US, Divorce and Children, Fast Food, Organic Farms, Wind Farms, Migrant Workers, and Transgender People. whistle blowersOne of history’s most famous whistle blowers, known as “Deep Throat,” was able to keep his identity hidden for many years after he implicated President Nixon’s office in a burglary that the leader hoped would ensure his reelection. Matt Doeden’s Whistle Blowers: Exposing Crime and Corruption (Twenty-First Century, 2015; Gr 8 Up), examines the Watergate scandal, and more recent cases, such as Edward Snowdon’s disclosure of a massive surveillance program of citizens by the U.S. National Security Agency, are profiled in detail. Doeden poses questions such as, “Traitor or Hero?” regarding Snowdon’s actions, allowing readers to formulate an opinion. Football fans will read about Mike McQueary, the Penn State rookie coach who hesitated in turning in a trusted mentor, Jerry Sandusky, for the sexual abuse of a minor. Criticized harshly for not intervening on the spot, McQueary lost his job and, illustrating the notion that some whistle-blowers are negatively impacted by their decisions, while others are held high in public esteem. wall streetThe Bullies of Wall Street (S & S, 2015; Gr 9 Up) is a firsthand, occasionally cheeky, look at the events leading up to and following the financial crisis of 2008 that crushed so many families. Sheila Bair, former Chairman of the (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), incorporates bullying analogies and heart-wrenching stories to illustrate the human impact of the business world’s greediness, including one story that illustrated that even school districts were affected when trickle-down effects of declining income tax revenues and property tax values depleted their operating income. Bair’s conversational account of her journey to Wall Street is filled with personal anecdotes and financial jargon that requires some attentiveness but, for the financially minded teen, it’s a behind-the-scenes glimpse into a stock market. For less market-savvy readers, Bair pauses—in different font—to explain such topics as “The Law of Supply & Demand” and “Bank Capital Rules and Why They are Important.” Students are more likely to value this book for its insider perspective, rather than as report fodder. For additional new nonfiction titles, see Vicki Reutter's "Beyond the Headlines | New Books on Current Issues," a companion piece to this article featuring global and environmental topics.

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