A mildly amusing tour de Capitol Hill based on some reporting forays and armchair rumination by a veteran Washington journalist. Los Angeles Times contributing editor Thomas (coauthor of Red Tape: Adventure Capitalism in the New Russia, 1992) has written a lite accompaniment to more somber analyses (like Jonathan Rauch's Demosclerosis, p. 210) of why Washington doesn't work. He has a way with a quip, observing that Senator Robert Byrd ``has moved so many federal offices to poverty-stricken West Virginia, the state could pass for a government in exile.'' But his survey of governmental inefficiency and self-protecting lawmakers doesn't dig too deep. He describes how congressional representatives grandstand to get media coverage, limns the proliferation of interest groups and congressional caucuses, and describes the Senate's unwillingness to investigate colleague Bob Packwood, charged with sexual harassment. The better chapters provide a fresh look at local folkways: Thomas follows the orientation of freshman representatives in 1992, observing how they get sucked into the system they ran against; he also shows how the city's racial polarization led Washingtonians to vote against a local death-penalty bill they felt was foisted on them by Congress. Unfortunately, his chapters on the Supreme Court, fund-raising, and lobbying are mostly old hat, and the best anecdote in his chapter on Congress-as-frat-house—concerning a night on the town with senators Christopher Dodd and Ted Kennedy— is borrowed from GQ magazine. Little in his narrative is as rich as the quotes he extracts from a transcript of the clubby, nasty TV show ``The McLaughlin Group.'' Thomas admits that he offers no plan to solve any of our national problems—``which makes it [the book] a lot like Congress.'' But he does conclude, quite reasonably, that congressional procedures should be reformed so that our representatives spend more time making laws than planning for reelection. This topic deserves either tougher reporting or an over-the- top satirist like Dave Barry. (8 pages of photos, not seen.) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 1994

ISBN: 0-684-19635-2

Page Count: 244

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.


Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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