A political treatise that focuses on empowering readers with its ideas.

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What We're Up Against

THE DESTRUCTIVE FORCE AT WORK IN OUR WORLD -- AND HOW WE CAN DEFEAT IT

A political writer and former Democratic Party congressional candidate endeavors to galvanize America’s liberal left by illustrating how the Republican Party has become a destructive force.

Schmookler (Debating the Good Society, 1999, etc.) presents what he sees as a nation in crisis—a country careening under the harmful influence of the Republican right wing, unprotected by a liberal America unwilling to acknowledge they are in a fight between good and evil. Nothing better crystallizes this than the 2014 elections, he says, in which a contrarian, disruptive Republican Party was rewarded with greater political control. The weak challenge from the Democrats, he asserts, comes from their basic unwillingness to acknowledge and vocally confront the right wing’s orthodoxy of “brokenness”—the hallmark, he says, of an evil force that lusts for wealth and power, pursues conflict, and relies on dishonesty to divide and influence others. Upon realizing this, Schmookler says, liberals will be able to embrace their role as a force for good and press back against the machinations at work in the government; to that end, he draws comparisons to conflicts in pop-culture narratives, such as the 2009 film Avatar, the Star Wars series, and The Lord of the Rings saga. Noting what he sees as similarities between today’s political climate and those during the American Civil War and the rise of Nazism in Germany, the book illustrates how groups thrived on spreading brokenness, and how they spread destruction until people stood up to them. Overall, Schmookler’s book is intellectually informative and socially eye-opening. He cites many of his own, earlier writings on politics and social evolution, offering ways to identify what he sees as evil through the upheaval and anarchy they cause, so that readers may meet them with absolute, moral truths. However, the text is quite dense and often necessarily repetitive when exploring some of its more abstract ideas. It more often seems to be aiming to inspire readers, rather than suggest concrete actions. Other sections, such as the “Interlude” chapters, seem self-indulgent, as the author expresses anxieties over sharing his message and speculating on its success.

A political treatise that focuses on empowering readers with its ideas.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2015

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2015

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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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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