A powerful, sometimes poetic account of Black life in America.

NI@$AS AIN'T ASTRONAUTS

An educator’s memoir chronicles growing up in Black Detroit.

As an educator, Murphy has seen firsthand “the beauty, and ugliness, of life,” particularly in the experiences of his Black students. He recalls one pupil who was caught smoking marijuana at school. After seeing the anguish on the student’s face when his mother warned him about “ending up like his father,” the author decided to write this book. Murphy wanted to recount his own struggles to overcome the pain of growing up with an absentee father and grappling with his racial identity in America. This story focuses on an average Black youngster growing up in 1970s Detroit whose unassuming life included a stern mother with an acerbic tongue (a “vulgar Shakespeare”) and an extended family known by an assortment of nicknames. While many chapters explore the morose urban life of the ’70s, including learning the “rules of survival” and earning “Hood credibility,” some of the book’s strongest moments address the innocence of childhood. For example, after being shot in the eye with a BB gun that nearly left him blind, the author recounts that his most vivid memory was wondering about the tooth fairy after losing a tooth while under anesthesia. The second half of the work centers on Murphy’s academic experiences, beginning with a “liberating” stint at Grand Rapids Community College, where he earned a reputation as a “militant” after serving as vice president of the Black Student Union. The author would go on to Morgan State University in Baltimore, where he had a daughter with a girlfriend whose early death would leave him a single father.

Murphy’s story is a compelling coming-of-age tale of a successful educator and loving father who surmounted obstacles and tragedy. But along with the memoir’s immensely readable narrative are passages of poetic reflections on Black life in America. The book’s descriptions of Detroit, where “every day” the author “lost a little more humanity and compassion,” and his debilitating “white folk fatigue” are particularly poignant. Equally potent is his defense of historically Black colleges and universities, whose value transcends academic rankings. They provided Murphy a curriculum centered on “pride about what my people—African people—had done,” teaching him lessons about the African diaspora that were completely ignored in his public school classes. Though the memoir’s message is one of triumph, Murphy does not shy away from his own mistakes, particularly his failed relationships with women. Indeed, humanity in all its complexity—from complicated relationships with parents to embarrassing sexual escapades—seeps from every page. The book’s title, which harkens to an episode in the author’s life as a 6-year-old boy when he was rebuked by his mother for wanting to be an astronaut, reflects the story’s approach of avoiding romanticizing the past while not wallowing in its unfairness. Despite living a life that could have easily broken him, Murphy constantly reminds readers (as he does his students) of their own agency in choosing “to be a victim or a victor.” Some may consider the volume’s warning not to “blame white people” or “the system” counterproductive to ongoing conversations about systemic racism. But this work is a testimony to both the destructiveness of racism and the strength of Murphy’s resiliency.

A powerful, sometimes poetic account of Black life in America.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 253

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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