A useful reading of history and politics in the light of mythmaking and media.

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OUR AMERICAN ISRAEL

THE STORY OF AN ENTANGLED ALLIANCE

From Genesis to Revelation: a well-argued study of the place of Israel in American culture.

In the zombie apocalypse, as Brad Pitt so vividly learned in the film version of World War Z, always have an Israeli soldier at your side, and preferably “a buff Israeli woman soldier who is a symbol of Israeli feminism and modernity.” Even if feminism and modernity are in retreat in the United States, it was a good match: They staved off the end of civilization and saved our unworthy souls. Since the founding of the modern state of Israel 70 years ago, writes Kaplan (English/Univ. of Pennsylvania; The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture, 2003, etc.), Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, have seen in that nation a reflection and confirmation of their own, a system of affinities drawing on “powerful myths about their kinship and heritage, their suffering and salvation.” The author examines how those exceptionalist myths were made, often through the medium of popular literature and film. World War Z is but one case. Six decades earlier, the legendary journalist I.F. Stone traveled to Mandate Palestine onboard a ship carrying Jewish refugees from Europe and wrote a now largely forgotten book, Underground to Palestine, which “included the major tropes of the narrative that progressive Americans told about Zionism in the years following World War II.” Those tropes also play out in Leon Uris’ novel Exodus, which, in Kaplan’s view, recapitulates some of the opening-of-the-frontier stories Americans tell about themselves. The tropes change to fit the narrative at hand: Some of the author’s cases argue that it’s the battle for land that keeps Israelis and Arabs apart, some the battle of good and evil. Much of the book is confirmation rather than eye-opener, but Kaplan’s tour of literature and film shows how common understandings of Israel and the U.S. have been shaped—and distorted, as with the Trump administration’s relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem.

A useful reading of history and politics in the light of mythmaking and media.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-674-73762-4

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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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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