A man is on a boat traveling east 15 miles per hour. The river is flowing west at 10 miles per hour. How long does it take the man to eat his lunch? Such is the boat captain's conundrum, and for over four decades Tom Corbett's job was to solve equally impossible questions. Over his years as a "policy wonk"—that is, social policy reformer—Corbett has developed theories about the way society and culture shape policy-making. He presents these in The Boat Captain's Conundrum, the third book in his memoir trilogy. Instead of focusing entirely on his life and academic adventures, this book is one part memoir and two parts musings on social policy making.
Anyone with even a passing interest in social policy reform will get a look inside the minds of the people who make change happen. Even if the topic doesn't interest you, Corbett has a talent for stripping the job of its numbers. (He is, after all, not a numbers man by his own admission). He presents his arguments as an intellectual exercise. Throughout the book, Corbett utilizes quotes from his own past writing, his personal life experiences, and his knowledge of culture and society, as well as a thorough history and analysis of social reform. Most intriguing of all is his writing on welfare reform, and the discussion of why things happened the way they did. Any aspiring social activist or reformer can find plenty to learn from Corbett's words, including why numbers are not everything, and how to ask the right questions. How does change happen? What are the factors that policy-makers must look at before taking the plunge? Corbett takes a topic often shrouded in numbers and dense writing and turns it into an intellectual yet conversational memoir.