Historical writing and political analysis of the highest order.


Essential history of a multifaceted political movement that ended in tears in many places—but endures in many others.

There are few people more qualified than Brown (Seven Years that Changed the World: Perestroika in Perspective, 2007, etc.) to write authoritatively on the communist states of the world; during a 40-year career he has studied in most of the principal powers. Many of them, he notes, are no longer communist. The remaining five—China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam—are more different than alike in critical respects of governance. Brown charts the origins of communism to pre-Marxist millenarianism. With the work of Marx and Engels the doctrine solidified and codified, though it would be transformed in the hands of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and Mao Zedong. The author notes Trotsky’s famous observation that in Russia, the process of party substitutionism—whereby the party stood in for the working class, the central committee for the party and the head of the central committee for the committee itself—would inevitably lead to dictatorship. So it did, with Stalin’s police arresting nearly 1.7 million Soviet citizens in 1937–38 alone, executing at least 818,000 of them. Communists are as famous as any other ideologues for intramural squabbles, as Brown observes, such that many refuse to acknowledge that communism has ever held power—since “ ‘communism’ was to be the ultimate stage of socialism which they never claimed to have reached”—and many others claim to have the lock on the true form of the doctrine (think Kim Jong Il). Brown’s analysis of these various strains of belief is spot-on, but the best part of the book comes at the close, when he undertakes a nearly blow-by-blow account of the end of the Soviet regime behind the closed doors of the Kremlin, the subsequent fall of a dozen communist states and a host of unintended consequences—including the reunification of Germany, which “the most committed opponents of the regime in East Germany, including those who led the demonstrations in October 1989,” had not really wanted.

Historical writing and political analysis of the highest order.

Pub Date: June 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-06-113879-9

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2009

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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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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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