Great fun, whether you’re cool or not.



An amusing and insightful meditation on socially maladroit guys in horn-rimmed glasses.

Journalist, blogger and Dungeons & Dragons veteran Nugent (Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing, 2004) delineates the world of the “nerd,” which Newsweek described in 1951 as a Detroit term for “a drip or a square.” Nerds have been exemplified in popular culture, he writes, by the bow-tied scientist Jerry Lewis played in The Nutty Professor, by Bill Murray and Gilda Radner in the Todd and Lisa sketches on Saturday Night Live and by the bullied misfits in the ’80s classic Revenge of the Nerds. In his wide-ranging search for outcasts in the pages of literature and the hallways of high schools, Nugent finds nerds going as far back as Mary Shelley’s emotionally disconnected Victor Frankenstein and the pedantic, graceless Mary Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. Often technical experts who are good with things but not with people, nerds can be found in the letters section of science-fiction periodicals, in engineering-school humor magazines and among adolescents who prefer the rule-bound culture of role-playing games to the emotion-charged messiness of real life. Nugent’s description of a 1930s group called the Futurians (members included Isaac Asimov and Frederik Pohl) will suffice for all: “kids facing serious obstacles toward social acceptance—dental problems; immigrant accents; scrawny, uncomfortable-looking bodies.” The author recalls his own life among nerdy childhood friends and brings us to such diverse nerdy organizations as the Society for Creative Anachronism, whose members painstakingly recreate aspects of life between 600 and 1600 CE, and the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, where all outsiders are always welcome. Unlike his sixth-grade friend Kenneth, who now manages a staff of game testers at a video-game company, Nugent broke long ago with his need for the “wizard/machine feeling” of nerdy activities, he writes. He certainly makes good use of his elf-with-sword days here.

Great fun, whether you’re cool or not.

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-7432-8801-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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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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