A powerful synthesis of recent world history that should disabuse readers of any notion of American exceptionalism.

AFTER THE FALL

BEING AMERICAN IN THE WORLD WE'VE MADE

A former Obama administration adviser examines the slow fall from grace that led to Trump.

The assumption that America was somehow different from the rest of the world was an article of faith in his childhood, writes Rhodes. “In the span of just thirty years, this assumption would come crashing down,” he adds, undermined by the very thing that had heralded greatness: a robust capitalism that produced global inequality, undermined the working class, and encouraged official corruption. “To be an American in 2020 was to live in a country diminished in the world,” he writes. With that diminution, other nations rose: Putin’s Russia, but especially Xi Jinping’s China. “In Singapore,” writes Rhodes, who traveled the world to write this book, “a senior government official told me casually over drinks that Asia had moved on from America—speaking as if this gleaming capitalist construction had almost been seamlessly handed off to the Chinese.” Meanwhile, other global leaders behaved like Trump—notably Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who was once an anti-communist liberal but found more opportunities to exercise power as a nationalist, quietly suppressing opposition while keeping the beer flowing. “Perhaps this was how fascists got away with it through history…there’s enough normal life out there for people to grab on to,” Rhodes writes. Even in the surveillance state of China, this holds true, at least for ethnic Chinese—and, notes the author, Trump is said to have approved of Xi’s program of concentration camps for dissident Uighurs. The author clearly shows that fear and self-censorship work in the U.S. as well as anywhere in the world. As for the pandemic and Trump’s failings there, the U.S. emerges as “a country that killed hundreds of thousands of people through our own unique blend of incompetence and irrationality,” no model for anyone. It’s a stinging, and entirely well-founded, rebuke of a political strain that shows no signs of disappearing.

A powerful synthesis of recent world history that should disabuse readers of any notion of American exceptionalism.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984856-05-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: April 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 47

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

more