Though the author sets aside “Boko Haram’s treatment of women” due to “reasons of space,” he offers a highly useful, timely,...



A diagnostic study of the ultraconservative “mobile jihadist gang” from Nigeria that has taken a violent toll on government and civilians alike.

In 2014, the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from the Nigerian town of Chibok brought worldwide attention to this terrorist group whose name derives in Hausa-Arabic from “Western-style education” (boko) and “forbidden” (haram). Thurston (Salafism in Nigeria: Islam, Preaching, and Politics, 2016) systematically examines the movement’s origins as a religious study group in 2002 in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri, led by the charismatic preacher Muhammad Yusuf, through subsequent chronological phases: a decisive turn to violence by 2009, uprising (and death of Yusuf) followed by government suppression, and re-emergence in 2010 as a terrorist group linked to al-Qaida. In the first chapter, “The Lifeworld of Muhammad Yusuf,” the author provides a solid overview of the fluctuating society in northeastern Nigeria from the 1970s, when Yusuf was born and the north of the country lagged in development compared to the south, through the 1990s, when disruptive urbanization and globalization pushed people into migration, poverty, and illiteracy. Western schools, a remnant of British colonialism—Nigeria became independent in 1960—were seen as highly suspect places. As Thurston writes, “Western-educated politicians and technocrats have presided over a system that has stolen much of Nigeria’s wealth, leaving much of the population poor.” With Christian-Muslim tensions rising, ultraconservative Salafi teachings became more popular. The author delves deeply into what Yusuf was actually teaching: a core doctrine of religious exclusivism that clearly demonized anyone thinking otherwise, with a focus on the Quranic slogan, “Chaos is worse than killing.” Thurston also weighs the mostly ineffectual government responses and urges a “long-term, fine-grained approach to understanding the Boko Haram crisis.” This book is a good starting point.

Though the author sets aside “Boko Haram’s treatment of women” due to “reasons of space,” he offers a highly useful, timely, illuminating work about a little-understood terrorist group.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-691-17224-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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.


“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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