Tom Corbett PhD. enjoys emeritus status at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as Senior Scientist with the Institute for Research on Poverty where he served as Associate (and Acting) Director for many years. He holds a Doctorate in Social Welfare from Wisconsin and enjoyed teaching several social policy-related courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels in the School of Social Work.

Corbett has long studied social assistance systems that affect the well-being of disadvantaged families. In addition, he has explored methods for assessing program effectiveness and strategies for monitoring the status of vulnerable populations. Over his career, he has given hundreds of talks and presentations to academic and policy audiences across the nation as well as served on numerous panels and Boards.

His earlier books (not included here) are a coedited work with Mary Clare Lennon (Columbia University) titled Policy into Action, a coauthored work with Karen Bogenschneider (University of Wisconsin) titled Evidence-Based Policymaking, and two edited volumes on his Peace Corps group’s service in India titled The Other Side of the World and Return to the Other Side of the World. In addition, the author has published scores of academic, technical, and policy relevant papers, book chapters, and reports on a variety of topics.

Over the years, Corbett has worked on policy issues at all levels of government, including a year as senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington where, among other things, he worked on president Clintons welfare reform bill. For example, he worked with senior state government officials on various social policy reform issues through the Welfare Peer Assistance Network (WELPAN), has consulted with numerous state and local sites across the U.S. and Canada on the organization of human services, testified before Congressional and state legislative committees, and served on a National Academy of Sciences expert panel focused on evaluating national welfare reform.

Tom Corbett is spending his retirement years publishing all those books that he never had the opportunity to write during his working years. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin with his spouse of 45 years, Mary Rider, and their sweet dog, rascal.

Jeremiah Joshua Connelly is about to retire from his academic position at the University of British Columbia. He anticipates a small ordinary affair of conventional speeches, farewell dinners, and the usual parting gifts and well-wishes. Instead, his past visits him in unexpected ways. He not only confronts people from the mists of a distant era he thought long lost but also accepts some truths about himself. Over the next week, Josh Connelly comes to terms with who he really is, with a past he tried to avoid, and with the people he had run away from for so long.

Tom Corbett brings us back to the post–World War II period, where he came of age in a rough and tumble ethnic, working-class neighborhood. From a kid who showed no promise whatsoever, he underwent a series of transformative experiences from Catholic seminary training to the leader of a left-wing college group through Peace Corps service in India. His journey of self-discovery takes us through several early endeavors, such as guarding city sewers, tending hospital patients during the graveyard shift, reaching out to desperately poor kids in a distressed neighborhood, and faking it as an agricultural guru in the deserts of Rajasthan. Somehow, despite much incompetence and self-doubt, the author used grit and charm and serendipity to fall into a fulfilling career as a respected academic and policy wonk.

Tom Corbett takes us on a wild ride over the past four decades of welfare reform and antipoverty policy making. Drawing on his personal experiences in both academia and government, he exposes the raw realities of doing policy. Tom celebrates his policy life as an adventure, both challenging yet totally rewarding. He tells this story with a deft and light touch, bringing the characters and events to life with wit, wisdom, and sensitivity. It is a journey accessible to all who care about our nation and about our most vulnerable citizens.

In The Boat Captain’s Conundrum, author Tom Corbett completes an intellectual journey that reflects on his four-plus decades as a scholar and doer of social policy. That journey starts with Ouch, Now I Remember, in which he recounts his early days growing up in a closed, working class, ethnic community from which he underwent several transformative experiences that broadened his worldview. In Browsing through My Candy Store, the author shared his struggles while confronting many of the most vexing poverty and welfare battles of the last half century. This final volume, The Boat Captain’s Conundrum, completes the trilogy.

This work takes the reader on quite a different journey, a path that goes deeper into how to think about the big policy issues and social challenges of our times. In the end, Corbett makes a number of compelling points. Becoming a successful policy wonk is more than conquering the technical skills of doing quantitative analysis. It demands that we do more than merely dissect issues with analytical acumen. Rather, doing good policy work requires creativity, imagination, breadth of interests, a nimble and acquisitive mind, historical depth, and just a little rebellious risk-taking. But if you can conjure up such traits, there is no better way to spend your professional life.

Follow the author as he shares his take on how to do policy work well and even make a contribution to the public good. Get inside his head as he struggled to make sense out of the more daunting social challenges of the late twentieth century. Above all, enjoy his wistful and sometimes witty wanderings as seen through a policy wonk’s eye where he touches upon mind-numbing conundrums with deft insight. It is a great journey to be enjoyed both by students of policy and all those concerned with public life.



Tenuous Tendrils

Tom Corbett
Xlibris (Jun 2, 2017) Softcover $19.99 (284pp) 978-1-5434-2627-4

Tenuous Tendrils explores conflicted emotions caused by an unresolved past.


Focused on the plethora of emotions faced during the chaotic and oftentimes frightening decade of the 1960s in America, Tenuous Tendrils by Tom Corbett is a compelling journey from exile to redemption.

A reluctant Canadian citizen for some three decades, Jeremiah Joshua Connelly, known as Josh, finds himself on the eve of retirement from a faculty position at the University of British Columbia. Instead of the usual end- of-career trappings like farewell parties and gifts, Josh receives a visit from his semi-estranged sister, Rachel, that sets off an unexpected course of events. Newly confronted with a past he thought he had successfully forgotten, Josh is forced to explore the struggle and emotional conflict that both drove him away and alienated him from his past. Over the course of a week, Josh must lean in to his tumultuous past to discover just who he really is.

Syntax is well-crafted and engaging, seamlessly blending together moments of the past and present. This is paramount to the success of the text, as characters spend a great deal of the book unearthing seemingly forgotten memories. The use of intriguing language paves the way for captivating exposition and character development. Though the novel only spans a week, much emotional growth and insight occur.

Tenuous Tendrils deals heavily in emotion, but it never succumbs to cliché or an excess of unnecessary commentary. Like its characters, the book is quite clever and features an abundance of humor. Many heavy scenes that are punctuated by conversations about the futility of war and the humanitarian failings of the government also feature an omniscient narrative wit that keeps the text from being bogged down by sentiment and also allows the characters’ personalities to shine.

An overarching theme of the delicate and fickle nature of relationships is expertly explored throughout the book. Centered on the ways in which the tumultuous sixties set off a chain of rebellion and loss among a generation of Americans, Josh and his contemporaries thoughtfully seek to amend past hurts caused by their decisions, and to make sense of the domino effect these decisions had on their later lives. The overwhelming power of nostalgia and how it can color memory is also examined.

The uncovering of the past makes the book wholly unique and enjoyable. Though wartime narratives are common, Corbett’s approach is smart, as it incorporates both emotion and time. The audience glimpses Josh at many different phases in his life, and is allowed a firsthand look at the ways in which his decisions have changed him and those around him.

Structurally, the book is also a success. Josh’s week of reckoning is broken into fifteen distinct chapters that chronicle particular times of day. Since so much emotional baggage is unpacked throughout the week, this approach is necessary to keep exposition orderly and to avoid straying too much from the main plot.

A concise prologue establishes Josh’s character as a young man, while setting in motion some critical decisions and relationships that appear later in the text. An equally effective epilogue packs a final emotional punch and ties up remaining loose ends. Despite skillful language use in establishing setting and mood, character dialogue can be a bit stiff at times, slowing the pace of an otherwise gripping story.

Tenuous Tendrils manages to strike the delicate balance of poignant and astute, exploring the conflicted emotions caused by an unresolved past.
AMANDA ADAMS (July 25, 2017)

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The author of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the author will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Early reviews for Tenuous Tendrils:

“Corbett has create a captivating novel… The book title perfectly describes the fine and fragile thread that spirals around each individual…to create an enthralling story that anyone will love to read.”

U.S. Review of Books

“…a fascinating and worthwhile read. Tenuous Tendrils by Tom Corbett is a captivating read with engaging vignettes which paint a picture of a retired professor, his life, and the connections which bind everything together.”

Pacific Review of Books

Reviews of Ouch, Now I Remember


“This is … a fully rendered tale. Those interested in the complexities of relationships … will find some rewards here.”- Blue Ink Reviews

…I found “Ouch, Now I Remember) to be a witty yet edifying read, riddled with some funny moments and insights…with many of them making me laugh out loud. I enjoy his writing style; it was comforting yet candid, like listening to a respected relative recount their own life with unabashed honesty.”
Pacific Book Review


…throughout the memoir, Corbett’s prose remains engaging, consistently mixing intelligent insight with the familiar jokes that one would expect from a close friend. A thoughtful memoir about life and politics, told in a(n) … endearing style.”
Kirkus Review


…the emergence of Corbett’s humanistic world view … gives Ouch, Now I Remember intellectual gravitas. … Corbett imparts an enormous amount of wisdom and humanity.”
Clarion Review


Reviews of Browsing Through My Candy Store ….


Corbett’s stories from the front lines of policy making, like All Quiet on the Western Front or The Things They Carried, provide great insight into the way the world works, not what the generals or policy planners think is happening.”
Matt Stagner, Ph.D. MPR Research Inc., and Univ. of Chicago


If you truly want to understand how public policy works, read this book.”
Mary Fairchild, National Conference of State Legislators


These stories from the political front lines can inspire even the most reluctant students to make policy a cause of their own.”
Karen Bogenschneider, Ph.D., Univ. of Wisconsin


Preliminary Reviews of The Boat Captain’s Conundrum ….

“The author takes the reader on a witty and and whimsical tour of how a policy wonk tackles some seminal social challenges of recent decades. It is a delightful and informative tour that integrates personal intellectual struggles with profound insights. Read this and you will be swept along by the daunting, yet seductive, challenges of doing policy work.”of transforming experiences that broadened his world view and led him to his policy career.
Lawrence Berger, Director, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin-Madison


“This book sings because Corbett writes with the authority of someone “in the arena.” as famously extolled by Teddy Roosevelt. As a lifelong policy wonk, Corbett brings to life the travails of being marred by “dust and sweat and blood” and the triumphs of daring to pursue a “worthy cause,” no matter how uncertain. This book is a worth read for all who consider “jumping into the arena.”
Karen Bogenschneider, Rothermal-Bascom Professor of Human Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison


“Public policy work is noble and effective. Democracy demands that we respect this profession and listen to those like Tom Corbett who do this work so passionately and effectively. Without insightful public policy analysis, we put ourselves at the mercy of those with the loudest voices and the deepest pockets. I highly recommend this book to students, concerned voters, and public leaders. Understanding public policy-how the work is done and the challenges the profession faces-will enable all of us to listen and contribute more effectively.”
Kay Plantes, Economist and Business Consultant, La Jolla California