tv After Words A Biography of Thomas Sowell CSPAN July 1, 2021 8:02pm-9:01pm EDT
sunday live noon eastern on in-depth during our conversation with historian, annette gordon reed as she talks about america's presidents, slavery and emancipation, her books include having south monticello latest book on juneteenth. she will take your pulse, facebook comments, e-mails and tweets watch book tv on c-span tooth this weekend. ♪♪ >> ahead and book tv, three biographies. first, conservative intellectual promise and fate supreme court justice, ruth bader ginsburg. former first lady, nancy reagan. >> it's a pleasure to be with you, we have been together on my radio show, you have made a number of videos and i review in the "wall street journal", you
are pretty and be greatest in my life, i just want you to know that. >> thank you. good to be here. >> you have done a service to the intellectual life of america by writing a biography of thomas soul andad i began in an odd wa, how do youee explain, i think i know the answer, nevertheless i want your answer, how do you explain that one of the finest minds of thee last half-century unknown to half of america. [laughter] >> i guess to use today's ball on, he was canceled along time ago. he was a conservative's, and way back in the 1970s, he began writing about racial controversies. he got in trouble with
intellectuals in the academy and in the media and he's inartfully shook that. in terms of notoriety, it's probably the main reason a lot of people today like nicole hannah jones or cornell west but not thomas, notwithstanding the fact that written circles around those folks, maybe all of them combined. not only in terms of work but also the rigor i think is unmatched by those folks if they remain much better known which is one reason i wanted to write the book. >> it's a trulyly important boo. was anything surprising in your research? >> i followed his career for
quite a while and i've been trying to get him to cooperate with me writing this book from ontime and interview him over the years a number of times so not too much surprised me. i guess one thing that might surprise a lot of people, what a late so guy in his life. he's not graduating from college until the age of 28, he was a high school dropout didn't write the first book until he was 40 and when you think about how prolific he's been, it's amazing that how late start he got in terms of his career. >> let's go to his beginnings again, folks were talking about thomas, in my opinion, one of the greatest speakers, not just the greatest communist, one of the greatest social thinkers and
courageous. you have to be both, based the way. cap he great with courage. in the last half-century. by the way, before -- expect to his child for a moment but it is fair, i think for me to say not at all just an economist. >> no, he's a social theorist, historian, sociologist and economist. he's dabbled in any number of fields, people who specialize in very protective but one of the great -- among our intellectuals but his first discipline is economics and economic history, the history of ideas. >> so, a brief synopsis of his
childhood? >> he was born in the 1930s in north carolina, outside of charlotte. he spent most the first decade of his life there. he was orphaned as a child. his father died as a child his mother died a few years later giving birth to another child. he was taken in and her two adult daughters, one of whom is married so the four of them went is about nine years old, he moved up to a harlem where he ws raised. as i mentioned earlier, he was a high school dropout, somewhat of a tumultuous home life and ended up dropping out ofht high school and leaving home at the age of 17 and eventually he was drafted into the marines during the korean war and spent two years in the marines and i think he could have got his act together there and pick up photography
which was a lifelong love of his. on the g.i. bill, he was able to enroll in college first at howard university and then rushed in to see and then transferred to harvard where he got his undergraduate degree. from there, he went on to columbia for a masters in economics and the university of chicago and received his phd and then spent the 60s and 70s teaching. then in 1980, he joined stanford university and that's where he spent a%. >> if there were no hoover institution, what mainstream university have hired him? [laughter]
>> tom have worked at any college or university he wanted to. he turned down offers to places like dortmund, university of wisconsin. he could have said the economic part department of the country. before he ever began racial controversy, the number of applications surpassed in the field. the college administrators, i think part of the problem was this was the 1960s and higher education was changing. you had a woman's rights movement, gay movement, anti- war movement. i'll just were used as platforms for this sort of thing and tom was off different generation.
i think he intended to teach the way he was taught and i was starting in the 1950s, that became very difficult to do. professors and administrators encouraging much more adults than anything he had experienced so i think it reached a had for him at cornell in the 50s and on faculty at the time and that might have been a break for him. he stuck it out through the 70s and had 1 foot in the think tank throughout the 70s but eventually by the end of the 70s decided to leave teaching. his first love was classroom teaching, he wanted to be a teacher. spooner probably a great teacher. by the way, i was thinking when you talked about his childhood, did he have a father figure?
>> yes, one of the great aunt who raised him had two daughters, one of whom was married and that man was something of a father figure but one tom talked about that experience, it's not just that he had bona fide, it's essentially he was an only child raised by four adult talks about how important that was in his child development and there are studies on how well they first born child does or only children do. he said i was lucky enough to be raised by four adults and back probably had more impact on how i turned out than anything else in my life. >> i'm just inking, a relatively
ignoredld field, you talk about influences in a child and i wonder if the fact that kids today spend more time with kids rather than adults and perhaps in recorded history, i wonder if that's happening in maturing impact on law and personality, i am just associating here based on what you said. >> it might. i'm not too familiar with that literature but we do know we have a lot of these gaps, academic achievement gaps we were still dealing with and constantly trying to close even before the children enter school. we note this force in our studies have beener done and brk them down by income level,
children on welfare and working class, huge disparities. not only in the number but in how many negative versus positive words child here's can be quite different depending on social academic program for the family but in tom case, the black family was in much better shape than is today. these families were the norm in the pelvis back them. the 30s, and 40s block americans for more black americans. we really see today with the 1960s, the legacy of jim crow or slavery. >> tried to say that on the college campus today.
[laughter] it has the detriment -- >> growing up in harlem but harlem was not best violent place with gunfire, a lot of people don't understand harlem was not what it became later so it was a very different place backman. >> is it fair to say, feel free to say it's not fair to say but i think that most american today, black-and-white have a picture of black life prior to the 60s as utter servitude humiliation, non- achievement which is a distorted picture, obviously there was the evil of jim crow, we understand that but jesse owens was an american hero
in 1932 or 36, i don't remember which olympics it was, hitler's great chagrin, it was a black runner who be all the other runners. people don't know that though, do that? >> they don't and i spent quite a bit of time writing about this. in black history, what was going on between the end of slavery and reconstruction and the jim crow era. before the model day civil rights movement, in charge of the progress being made and it was markable progress. you saw gaps and income gaps closing. the poverty rate for example in america so by 40 percentage points 1940 -- 60. that is before a civil rights act. you had profession, social
workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, a number of them quadrupled from 1930 -- 1970. and you are right, this. is not discussed to the extent it should be and i think that's because it interferes with the prevailing narrative which is what we see, the outcomes we see today, the legacy of slavery and jim crow. if you say to them the blacks were progressing at a much faster rate than generations closer to jim crow than they are today, it interferes with that narrative that the left often pushes. >> so again, tell me if this is going against your opinion but the central monarch over conservative is please leave me
alone. that's basically what we want, to be left alone. we like to make our own mistakes from a fall on our faces, pick ourselves up. is it at all fair to say that had that effect blacks but left alone with no jim crow, that's not being left alone. it will help you immensely, with a have been better? >> i don't think it's a theoretical question, something that is the answer empirically by looking at trends among blacks at a period of time when the government didn't care what was happening to black people and the government was involved and if you look again at the progress being made, educational and payment not only in terms of relative but look at these timelines. you see tremendous progress in
the first half of the 20th century and when the state extensions of the 60s, along with great society and well-intentioned but if you follow up report this is, at that time all of these things start to reverse course. just a quick view, five prime is something on the front page news. it was declining in the first half of the 20th century. in the 1940s, it felt like the present. in the 50s, if not by another 21% all the while many relatively flat among white and this was particularly remarkable because it's the time a lot of box moved from rural settings to urban where you typically find more private. violent crime rate among blacks,
homicide philip dramatically. they reverse course in the 50s and then 70s and gets worse and worse well into the 1990s sorkin i don't think it's something that is theoretical, what thomas said about this is this is what you said about this leave us alone, what the civil rights movement did that was most valuable, was to get the government off the backs of black people particularly in the south with respect to the jim crow law. that was a great achievement of the civil rights movement in busting jim crow to the extent of the government tried to play a positive role for his action, it has had a deleterious attack. you can show the rise of the welfare state with the rise of
homes in the black community so yes, leave us alone strategy, i think was a better strategy and at the time, frederick douglass and washington, that was their attitude. >> so with regard to know community, is it probably as true as of this with regard to black americans? ronald reagan's famous statement, the government is not the solution, it's a problem. >> yes, i think so and that was sort of -- thomas started out thinking that the government did have a positive role to play. he remained even after friedman at the university of chicago and he says what changed his mind was working in the government
and department of labor and what he saw was that the government was not always in the could be a harmful force when it comes to low income minorities and in his case, coming after a study of minimum wage and what they were doing in terms of unemployment. >> you mentioned study under milton friedman, have a big impact on him? >> yes, in several ways. milton friedman, i think one of the bigger effects he had was on public intellectualism, what he is best known for today and what i mean by that, after friedman left teaching in the 70s after he won his nobel prize, he said about writing popular books that
could be read and understood by general interest leaders, people who are not economists, he did a lot of research groups, college campuses and elsewhere, he felt the role is not simply to talk to your peers in the academy but to explain your discipline to people who were not in the discipline. they very much followed that model, he's written book after book aftere book and plainspoken for everyday people and it's one of the reasons a lot of people were disappointed when he gave up problem if you here's back. i think even after complex, still preaching through and as i said at the time, he was the best professor a lot of people have even if they never went to college. i think public intellectualism
to some extent on what friedman had done. >> he study under a persuasive left-wing progress, do you think he would have turned out differently? >> i don't know, probably not. he was very much his own man he was not indoctrinated by friedman or stigler, another economists studied under in chicago, he studied under gary beckerer at columbia working on his masters but no, friedman pointed this out, he's his own man. he even after studying under friedman, he wasas still there. i don't think a professor would have changed his mind. he spent very independent minded for a very long time.
>> i know that. [laughter] what was his first big hit? >> 's book? >> yes. >> i would probably say i think america which came out in 1981, it was a very big hit. a tremendous amount of coverage, sold a lot of copies and it's a book about different ethnic groups that come to the u.s., he traces the history and he's also talking there about the importance of culture upward mobility and if you have economists call right human capitol, the right attitude with habits and behaviors conducive to economic advancement, you're going to be okay even if society
discriminates against you and you can see examples not only here in the u.s. when it comes to things like japanese you can see it in other countries, south east asia or eastern europe and so forth. if you have that capitol, even if you were banned from certain schools or occupations, please groups that have that seem to be on the rise. >> in my understanding, the moment you say values determine behavior, you are no longer on the left. [laughter] >> i think that's a pretty fair statement. >> i know that book's, i didn't realize that was his first big one. when did basic economics come out? >> the first edition of basic economics, i want to say around
2000. >> oh that late? twenty yearsha later. >> i want to say around 2000, don't quote me on that. >> so i was curious, in my brain, basic economics because of the title, basic, i thought that was the first. >> his first book he ever wrote was an economice textbook, it ws a traditional economic textbook. basic economics is an economic textbook the beauty is it has no charts and graphs and it was much more difficult to write than the first one he wrote. >> you about this, when i had him on four basic economics which i think could be the dullest title of every any book written, i said to him on my radio show, you really should have consulted with me, i'm good at titles, let's admit, guide to
bikinis would have done much better and he laughed so hard that i knew i was with a real person. >> it's his best-selling book. basic economics more than anything else he had written, it was translated into seven or eight different linkages. >> lima ethic bikinis. i loved joking around with him if he laughed so easily, i don't know if people know that. i'm sure you encountered that. >> yes. >> he is so proud off his photography, he made sure, he's good. >> he's very good. >> i don't blame him so to the extent that we are free to speak about, what is his personal life
like? mary for my children? >> this is mostly an intellectual biography, i talked about some aspects of his personal life and he has written about his personal life and his columns over the years and a couple books he's gone into cash he wrote a semi- biographical book in the early 70s where he talked about his upbringing and he wrote a memoir that came out in the late 90s and married with a couple of kids. he's written more extensively about one of his children, his son who was a late talker in life and after his son graduated from college, tomko a : about how late he started to talk and how worried his parents were at
the time and it produced a flood of letters from other parents who's gone through something similar and the volume was so greatat that tom decided to wrie a book called late talking children a and he couldn't finda lot of books out there about these kinds of kids, they tend to be male, musically oriented, right memories, there's a lot else wrong with them other than they just start talking much later than most kids but it is a phenomenon and wrote about it, he wrote two books about the topic so he has written about his son. >> to be personal on my and for a moment, i didn't speak until past three, my grandfather was sure i was retarded, he told my parents that. in those days you could use that
term. [laughter] excuse me. and my argument has always been wide but i talked, i started talking when i could charge for it. [laughter] >> you made up for lostho time. >> exactly right i did not know he wrote that book. i know someone who has a boy, w she's very worried, he's almost to i'm going to givek her that book c. i'm sure i could get it even if it's not in print but that is so typical of him to do something on an issue that has nothing to do with economics. as you pointed out you used the great term, there are no boundaries to his thinking. also, you have the sense that he loves life. [laughter] >> yes, i hope so because he's going to be 90 won this year so
i hope he's enjoying it. he's got a very long one. [laughter] >> i hope he has many more if that's the case. if there is such a thing, if you could recommend 1 foot to start people off, what would you recommend? >> he put out a book called thomas soul reader in mid to thousands, maybe a little later and it is a family of chapters from books he's written as well as problems on various topics, economics so forth and that might be a good way to start. if you want to go a little deeper however, the book of which topics product from conflict f decision and the book that came out and mitigate 80s, 1987 i believe is a book
about political philosophy and the origins of archaeological, justice and equality and human nature and traces them back hundreds of years people like william beaudoin and folks like that and what he is going over there, these two patient, constrained vision and unconstrained vision, sometimes he calls it tragic vision and vision. in the constrained vision, there is a sense that there are problems we want to solve that are unlikely to be solved, a hunger war, crime, racism and so forth. because we can't solve these problems, what we need to do is put in place institutions and processes that help us feel what problems we can't solve. we white might also want world
peace but we are probably not going to get it so we need a department we want to end racism and crime but probably not going to happen so you need courts of law judiciary adjudicate these so you have one feel from that perspective and the other utopian vision essentially says man is essentially perfectible, watching our way or have the will power, we can solve all of these problems and there's no trade-offs.. thomas said these two visions of humanity, human nature are what it would have been driving for hundreds of years and traces the origins the reason i think it's a book -- no matter what he's writing about whether it brazier cultural economic issue, he is
operating in this vision. that book really lays it out. >> it cannot be stated how important that is, the great evils of the 20th century, the bloodiest century we know of emanates from utopian communism which killed the most people from the nazis didn't have as long time to do it but it is sleepy based on utopian constrained vision of what is possible and we are seeing that happen in the u.s. today. a country free of racism, what does that even mean? i am a jew, dry expect a country free of anti-semitism? the idea is preposterous. the question is whether your society is anti-semitic, not whether they are anti-semite.
their children -- one could almost say it's an adult vision versus a child vision. isn't that a fair way of putting it? >> it is in the sense that unconstrained view is more than aesthetic, someone i interviewed for thete book explained it, its a preference for howow the world should be and it could be completely divorced from reality. they never answer the question, can you do this? is it possible and at what cost utopian view, there are no trade-offs. everybody has everything. tom was explaining, there is a view, tom has written volumes about this, clearly. this view that human capitol is distributed evenly and therefore
we should see proportionate outcomes and things like income or education in all kinds of facets of our lives for people who have studied society have never found the same outcome has held up today. the norm is different outcome, not proportionate outcome, even in countries that are ethnically and racially homogenous you do not find equal outcome. the idea that you find them in america, people from so many different places, geographies and so many different histories and terms of things they focus on and prioritize and put them all together in america you get the outcomes, off the market and today we have people out there
have this view of proportionate outcomes as the norm and where they don't see it, they assume something nefarious must be going on and again it's the progressives largely driving this view and they have been doing this a long time. go back 100 years ago progressives telling us this outcome and we are responsible for the disparities among groups and not thinking. you fast-forward 100 years now it discrimination is the decider for these outcomes we have today. once again, they have made it the cost and they are wrong once again but that is the type of thinking we are dealing with and tom pointed out the thinking that has long history.
>> there is one area that at least not yet have infected the idea of equitable outcomes in fact sports. it doesn't seem to bother them at this time from a disproportionate number of blacks in the nba or white and hockey. >> i think, they are very good at compartmentalizing things, particularly something disrupt their narrative that i spoke about earlier today using discrimination as the sole factor of this outcome, they always run into problems and when you include agents in the equation, if you want to talk about whites getting approved for loans, agents get approved at higher rates than whites. he talked about school
discipline where black boys are suspended, whites are at higher rates than asians so they don't talk abouto them. they read the data to where they can make an arrest they are trying to say and then they stop and ignore anything that interferes with that narrative so i think that is what you see going on here. >> let me pose a challenge to you and tom as well were on with us right now, there seems to be one arena largely ignored by people that i so admire and status the role of the church and religion in people's lives.
we on the conservative side and black conservatives in particular will emphasize how the government, as you pointed out, doesn't help, it hurts how much government policy has hurt black life but the out of wedlock birth rate of whites has gone up tremendously and i see it as directly correlated with religious identification churches that has gone down wedlock have gone up, do you see a role for this in the problems that face this. >> i do, it is not something i've come across in research other than when he writes about
decision-making society count on religion in the church and the extent that you see must churches, it will have a negative impact. i would also say the role the church religion has played in helping minority irish came here very portable slope to rise economically in america. the catholic church isup a rolen turning that around company i similarly, schools setting up hospitals and so forth so we do have an example search and fair
our churches today similar functioning institutions in the poor black and i think they have their work cut out i've talked to some ministers about this in the past and one probably say to me is women show up but it meant they are trying to reach and not as part of the challenges that was noting. on a difficultut subject, you names block thinkers that are extremely popular, whenever
i think i almost wept when i compare them. there is no all, they are just outbursts with claims made with no bases. how do you account for them? is simply the establishment media agreed to them and fattest the issue? >> it is a large part of the issue. i don't know the whole issue but they certainly do have media on their side and not just media. when i mentioned earlier, he was an academic. you think about not just control of media ideologically but who controls the academy? who was in charge of the committee's have these intellectual circles? these are all left liberal groups and intellectuals who may
have been able to accommodate intellectuals they want to and cancel the w ones they don't so yes, that has played a large role. one question that would often be asked during interviews and i watch hundreds of hours of interviews, often be asked how does it feel to be out of step with other blocks in your view? utilize direct interviews and say you mean i'm on with other black relief that he would say black elites are no more representative of black whites are of whiteto people and you can't conflate the two so you talk about an issue like voter id laws or canceling police were i'm sorry, defunding police,
these are views where black elite, the ones in the media, their views are not held by the black community, people live in these neighborhoods. voter id laws are supported. most people want more. >> more school twice. >> so oftentimes the media is guilty of running to these black elites and accepting their opinion as the opinion of black people this is by no means a new phenomenon. you go back to the busting floors of the 70s and 80s for the naacp. they did not support fussing.
>> as i mentioned, school choice. that's huge so if this is true, why do plot box keep voting democrat? >> not a phenomenon unique to blacks. i'll give an example, in 2020, there was a referendum in california that would have reinstated racial preferences in college admission, something california voters rejected in the 1990s to put them back in place. asian americans were part of the group that helped defeat this proposition.
>> both democrats, too. >> at the same time they voted overwhelmingly for joe biden you can look at the districts in california that are heavily asian and there's disparity against op 16 for joe biden so that's not the only group that does this, there are other issues. >> will let me tell you -- >> i also think part of the problem ist also the last of republican outreach. there are some exceptions but they remain largely succession, republicans largely can see the democratic party, republicans typically do not go into these neighborhoods will go to barbershops or in the church is, they're not advertising on black radio or black television programs and social media, you have to go get the boat and what
that enables the democrat to do there is no pushback when they go so i think if republicans want more black support, i think they will have to take an effort to go passport. >> extremely significant. i remember when i would hear about a republican nominee for president who would be invited to a convention or banquet and not go. i was thinking, what are you nuts? you have a chance to get exposure in the black community if you are rejecting it? >> i wouldn't go through the civil rights establishment -- black folks at the naacp conference, they probably lost to the republican party.
>> but black radio. >> i would go around them, i would go to black colleges and barbershops in community service, i wouldn't go to the traditional civil rights. >> i hear you and agree with you but my thought was at the very least, segments of your talk will be played on black radio. i agree not to rely on the naacp which is a lost group, idealistically but i do believe, anyway, it doesn't matter, we agree, it would be great if they showed up.n it donald trump try this at least by saying what you have to lose? >> if you consider that effective. [laughter] i could think of more effective
ways. >> right although there was truth toe? that. what happen again in 2022 with all the crime, violence crime overwhelmingly directed box by box, will blacks still vote democrat in their cities given these are defined police crowd? >> again, i think it's going to depend on whether republican nominees for the boat. that is what it will come down to. republican nominee going to go to the communities and asked the boat? the real story of box under donald trump's how well things were going in terms of poverty, income, wage growth.
blacks were doing tremendously in the pre-covered economy under donald trump so it is clear many of the t policies were supporte, policies that would help in this country and i think the republican nominee ought to remind black people about in person in their communities. it's important to show up. >> i would say black republican regarded in mainstream blacklight. >> commodity, it's very much -- but despite the fact that i think black americans hold up conservative views on any number of issues. he mentioned school twice as one but the republican label still. yes, very much so.
>> that's been effective. you mentioned the issue of it not just blocks from i mentioned i'm as. jew and my relatives are jewish and nearly all of them are democrats. thank god is not true for my sons and wife which is most important. i tell my love, i said i have a great line i think you would love. i say to them, why don't you preach what you practice? [laughter] conservative lines. >> he's argued for years that one way for the republican party, one thought they took advantage of his education and given what has taken place with
schooling under covert and have blatantly they have shown themselves to be more interested in leveraging the crisis with her members more than they are interested in helping kids and families, i think that is a huge community here for republicans to run on that issue and keep that in the minds, the democratic party is and what the teacher unions, but couldn't go to school, you could go to work, do you want to continue to support a party that wants unions to have as much control not only over our schools but our lives? i think that is a message republicans can go on in the return election next presidential election. >> we are coming to the end, unfortunately.
it's been wonderful talking to you. i like yourio analysis of white leftist country is racist, every white is a racist, whites are fragile, it is generally argued that this comes from, in my opinion, pathological deal, i see it as more nefarious as in many cases, just using blacks as a vehicle to power like the communist and the soviet union's workers, couldn't care about workers, they used them to gain power. i would love your reaction. >> i think progressives left has given up on black people. particularly -- i'm very, very disturbed by this movement of w
testing, standards of any kind, it is telling me they don't believe black people could be hold up to these standards and therefore they are eliminated which is odd because showing us where the kid is great you eliminate this, that doesn't mean the kid isn't in that position. i need to b know where they are, not where you hope they are. they need to know where they actually are and when you eliminate that, you are just appearing where they are, that's not how. one thing when you want to help someone, you tell them what they need to hear. when you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want but i think your analysis is right, these progressives want to help themselves but the other problem
is they have decided that these kids will never measure up, blacks in general will never measure up. this whole effort to decriminalize and make things illegal no longer illegal to accommodate disparities and behavior to meet says these yblack people are incapable of ever doing xy and z so we must eliminate these standards ignoring black history pre-1950s black history when things were going in a different direction in all kinds of measures, incomes and employment so it is very disturbing. >> i agree with you, the new york times has come out against
the new york, they want musicians chosen on the basis of gender and race not who plays the oboe best behind a curtain so all it does, it is the achievement of the black boys, are you great or did they choose you for your public? well listen, you do magnificent work, your biography is extremely significant, one of the greatest thinkers as i said in the 20th country 21st century so thank you for all the work, lecturing and i look forward to being with you again. >> thank you, appreciated. ♪♪ >> c-span's "washington journal" every day we take your calls
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