A mixed bag, sometimes entertaining, sometimes arid, but full of useful insights; readers won’t look at Lady Gaga or Nicki...

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GOOD BOOTY

LOVE AND SEX, BLACK AND WHITE, BODY AND SOUL IN AMERICAN MUSIC

Forget drugs: sex and rock & roll are where it’s at in this survey of the devil’s music and its carnal dimensions.

NPR music critic Powers (Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America, 2000, etc.) opens on a political note, observing, “America’s erotic drive emerged as inseparable from the fact of its troubled multiculturalism.” Take it as a given that nations have “erotic drives” and that any discussion of “American bodies” requires us to acknowledge “the legacy of gross inequality that begins in the enslavement of Africans.” The author then settles into her occasionally diffuse narrative that connects Congo Square to Beyoncé and bemoans the devolution of Ma Rainey’s bawdy to the pornified, auto-tuned hip-hop of today. Where Powers successfully connects the dots, light bulbs flash: it is fascinating to watch her join the gay subculture of disco to the success of the sisters Labelle, nee the Blue Bells, remade in “a previously unexplored space where glam met funk met soul via strictly female interplay.” (Well, perhaps not strictly female, since, as Powers notes, the designer of Labelle’s outrageously flamboyant costumes went on to invent the costumes of the swaggering cartoon band KISS.) Even where she does not successfully make those connections, as with her notes on the apache (“pronounced A-POSH, not like the Native American tribal name”) dance and its not-so-subtle masochism, which never quite caught on in the larger culture, she ventures interesting theses. Mostly, the author strings together bright tidbits of cultural trivia to reconstruct and deconstruct the kinship of dirty blues and gospel, the shared underage girlfriends of now-iconic British rock stars, and other points of prurient interest.

A mixed bag, sometimes entertaining, sometimes arid, but full of useful insights; readers won’t look at Lady Gaga or Nicki Minaj the same way after considering them among the “cartoonish card deck of sexualized female archetypes” that constitutes so much of the present pop scene.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-246369-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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