THE DISCOVERY OF THE PAST

From Schnapp (Art and Archaeology/Univ. of Paris), a meticulously researched, beautifully crafted, and consistently absorbing history of the practice of archaeology from ancient times. Schnapp demonstrates that curiosity, even obsession, about the past were characteristics of civilized society from the beginning, and that the practice of archaeology is as old as humanity. Ancient Mesopotamian texts, inscriptions from early China, and the writings of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Plutarch show that a passion for history often arose from speculation about the origins of ruins, even if there was little historical methodology. Early archaeologists were not always historically minded: Schnapp notes that motives such as greed and piety (as in the collection of relics) often played a part in the collecting obsession, and early archaeological excavation sometimes was little more than looting. The barbarian invasions of Europe, and the hunt for treasure that ensued, obliterated much evidence of the classical past. While the monks of early Christianity played an important role in the preservation of ancient texts, there was nothing like a systematic study of the classical past until the Renaissance. Schnapp traces the systematic study of archaeology from the early antiquarians of that period (gifted amateurs for whom the study of antiquities was one of many scholarly passions) to the emergence of a class of professionals in the 17th and 18th centuries. Antiquarians, still mostly devout Christians, struggled to reconcile the Christian worldview with evidence of a past more ancient than the Bible indicated. Schnapp shows that with the development of a distinctive scientific methodology in the 19th century, archaeology was transformed from a branch of philology or religion into one of the natural sciences. A fascinating, highly intelligent look at man's obsession with finding evidence of his past. (370 illustrations) (Natural Science Book Club main selection)

Pub Date: April 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-8109-3233-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1997

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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