A smug, disappointing collection.




A collection of essays—ranging from brief polemic to biography to short fiction—on the Bible.

Of those authors chosen for this collection by Blauner (editor: Our Boston: Writers Celebrate the City They Love, 2013, etc.), few are overt persons of faith. Many of the essays include the contributors’ stories of falling away from the faith traditions of their childhoods, be it Judaism, Catholicism, evangelical Protestantism, etc. In his introduction, Adam Gopnik posits immediately that “[the Bible’s] stories have long ago fallen away; we know that almost nothing that happens in it actually happened, and that its miracles, large and small, are of the same kind and credibility as all other miracles that crowd the world’s great granary of superstition.” Though not all the writers are as thoroughly dismissive of the Bible as sacred Scripture, most are. Robert Coover, in fact, ends the collection with a genuinely caustic view of the Bible as “unbearable diatribe exhibiting an appalling and infantile view of the universe.” Though a few of the essays are genuinely worthwhile and even touching—e.g., Lois Lowry’s reflection on family—most are casual and shallow. The goal of the book is vague. On the surface, the collection draws on secularist writers to explore what effect earlier exposure to the Bible has had upon them. However, too often the writers slide into irrelevant territory. In some cases, the job of writing such a short essay seems overly labored and clumsy, such as when Owen King stumbles around with such disparate topics as Dr. Seuss, the George W. Bush–John Kerry presidential debates, and Pope Francis when trying to discuss a single verse in Luke. Though the collection will not interest readers of faith, it may appeal to a subset of intellectuals who, like the contributors, have stepped away from belief in Scripture and yet still hold some fascination with it. Other contributors include Pico Iyer, Edwidge Danticat, Ian Frazier, Rick Moody, and Kathleen Norris.

A smug, disappointing collection.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-8996-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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