Jordan Cooper’s “Perspectives on the Public Interest” seeks to shine a spotlight on people who devote their lives to helping others, and it succeeds. It is a well-organized and well-constructed book on the motivation behind public service.
The 295-page work is a series of question-and-answer interviews with notable civil servants, politicians, journalists and other individuals who spend their days in service of others. The chapters are compiled from the 25- to 35-minute audio episodes of Cooper’s online Public Interest Podcast.
Each of the 12 chapters covers a different segment of public service, enabling the reader to gain a broad view. The book’s wide net makes it more interesting than your average question-and-answer book. We get to hear from people whose livelihoods appear to have little in common.
Each chapter has the same structure – a brief introduction by Cooper presenting his own view on the topic, and introducing the general themes discussed by the interviewee. Quotes from famous individuals such as Thomas Jefferson, relating to the subject at hand, preface each of Cooper’s introductions. Each chapter then presents a series of questions and answers with an expert. This format works well, as Cooper does an excellent job of tying the different subjects together, adding perspective to the sometimes disconnected interviews.
Cooper, a two-time candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates, is a well-informed host. He has conducted over 300 interviews, and he is able to coax information out of people. His questioning and choice of subjects allow readers to hear different views and draw their own conclusions. Few books would have interviews from such ideological opposites as conservative Heritage Foundation director David Azerrad and progressive Congressman Jamie Raskin.
The best parts of his interviews often come when his subjects talk about their motivations for going into service. The story of how Eliot Pfanstiehl, founder and retiring CEO of the performing and visual arts center Strathmore, when he discovered he lacked the talent to be on stage, decided to become the person who puts artists on stage is especially touching.
One criticism would be the author’s reuse of his sign-off messages from the podcast, where he reintroduces his subjects once more to his listeners. Sign-off messages work well in broadcast or online audio interviews, since listeners may tune in mid-broadcast, or need to be reminded of whom they are listening to after a lengthy interview. In print, however, the sign-off serves little purpose, and perhaps should have been removed. The reader does not need to be reminded of the name of the person whose interview he or she just read.
Overall, Cooper does what any good interviewer should do – lets his guests speak for themselves. In summary, “Perspectives on the Public Interest” is a solid collection of interviews that provide great insight into the public servants who help shape our community.
Overall rating: four stars.