Humans are makers, the author argues persuasively in this illuminating book, in need of renewed connection to the...

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CRÆFT

AN INQUIRY INTO THE ORIGINS AND TRUE MEANING OF TRADITIONAL CRAFTS

Tracing human existence from prehistory on, a historian celebrates resourcefulness and skill.

British archaeologist and medievalist Langlands (Medieval History/Swansea Univ.), presenter of the BBC series Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm, makes his literary debut with a delightful, informative melding of memoir and history. Like Ruth Goodman did in her books How to be a Victorian (2014) and How to be a Tudor (2016), Langlands conveys the reality of daily life in earlier times, focusing especially on “physical adeptness, strength and fitness” along with hard-won wisdom about materials and techniques, all components of cræft. He believes that society today is “going backwards,” relying on machines that have rendered us “lazy, stupid, desensitised and disengaged.” On his journey of discovery, Langlands finds evidence of craftiness in museums, such as the Museum of Welsh Life, where he investigated beekeeping; and an Icelandic farmstead museum containing implements and artifacts of daily life: a cornucopia of tools and gear, along with “skilfully made baskets, chests and trunks” to hold them. Much of what he learned came from his own determined efforts. “As is often the case with my experimental historical crafts addiction,” he admits as he faced the challenge of making a thatched roof, “one extremely long and arduous task leads to another extremely long and arduous task.” The author discloses the complex processes involved in creating items we take for granted: woolen fabric, for example, requires an understanding of “how fleeces translate into fibres, how fibres translate into yarns, how both respond to dyes,” and how yarn becomes fabric for particular uses. The tanning of hides into leather is similarly complicated, with multiple steps of cleaning, preserving, and drying. Farming, haying, weaving, basketry, and boat-making are some of the crafts Langlands describes in fascinating detail as he travels through time and place. He regrets that workmanship is no longer revered: “we have become detached from making,” he writes, “and it isn’t a good state for us to be in.”

Humans are makers, the author argues persuasively in this illuminating book, in need of renewed connection to the intelligence and ingenuity of craft.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63590-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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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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