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STORIES ARE WEAPONS

PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE AND THE AMERICAN MIND

A cogent history and analysis of today’s toxic national discourse, joining a host of recent titles in a burgeoning genre.

A long-view denunciation of today’s avalanche of disinformation, fake news, and propaganda.

Newitz, journalist, host of the Our Opinions Are Correct podcast, and author of Four Lost Cities, among works of science fiction, argues that “weaponized storytelling” has been an American tradition throughout its history. During the Revolution, Benjamin Franklin published a fake newspaper article describing a fictional British officer’s delight at boxes of scalps from colonial settlers, women, and children, delivered by Native American allies. Reprinted widely, it produced universal outrage. The author moves on to examine what some scholars proclaim was America’s “foundational moment”—not the Revolution but the Indian Wars, when white settlers replaced Indigenous communities with their own. Readers long familiar with the deplorable treatment of Native Americans during the 19th century may be inclined to skim these sections, but matters will not improve as Newitz recounts other outrages. They join the steady stream of debunkers of Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve (1994), the bible of scientific racism—though they warn that the audience for deeply satisfying fables is largely impervious to the facts. The author makes a convincing case that the 21st-century epidemic of intolerance, invective, and authoritarian movements is as American as apple pie. In the obligatory how-to-fix-it conclusion, Newitz emphasizes tolerance, agreeing to disagree, and promoting evidence over emotion. They do not ignore traditional pleas to reform public education and the internet, but admit that they haven’t caught on. Searching for alternatives, the author promotes spreading democratic ideals through storytelling in “applied science fiction” or a transformed, “rejuvenated” public library. “When we immerse ourselves in the silence of the library,” writes Newitz, “we learn the most fundamental defense against psyops. Our minds belong to us.”

A cogent history and analysis of today’s toxic national discourse, joining a host of recent titles in a burgeoning genre.

Pub Date: June 4, 2024

ISBN: 9780393881516

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2024

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WHAT THIS COMEDIAN SAID WILL SHOCK YOU

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

The comedian argues that the arts of moderation and common sense must be reinvigorated.

Some people are born snarky, some become snarky, and some have snarkiness thrust upon them. Judging from this book, Maher—host of HBO’s Real Time program and author of The New New Rules and When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden—is all three. As a comedian, he has a great deal of leeway to make fun of people in politics, and he often delivers hilarious swipes with a deadpan face. The author describes himself as a traditional liberal, with a disdain for Republicans (especially the MAGA variety) and a belief in free speech and personal freedom. He claims that he has stayed much the same for more than 20 years, while the left, he argues, has marched toward intolerance. He sees an addiction to extremism on both sides of the aisle, which fosters the belief that anyone who disagrees with you must be an enemy to be destroyed. However, Maher has always displayed his own streaks of extremism, and his scorched-earth takedowns eventually become problematic. The author has something nasty to say about everyone, it seems, and the sarcastic tone starts after more than 300 pages. As has been the case throughout his career, Maher is best taken in small doses. The book is worth reading for the author’s often spot-on skewering of inept politicians and celebrities, but it might be advisable to occasionally dip into it rather than read the whole thing in one sitting. Some parts of the text are hilarious, but others are merely insulting. Maher is undeniably talented, but some restraint would have produced a better book.

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

Pub Date: May 21, 2024

ISBN: 9781668051351

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

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Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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