An original, well-researched study that would have benefited from a livelier writing style.

NAKED

A CULTURAL HISTORY OF AMERICAN NUDISM

A history professor’s sweeping sociolegal examination of the American nudist movement from its early-20th-century beginnings.

Hoffman exposes the beginnings of public nudity as a legitimate movement in the United States, beginning in New York City all the way back in 1929, when groups of men began peeling off their restrictive clothing and exercising in the nude at the New York Gymnasium. This simple act of doing calisthenics in the buff set off a significant legal debate and controversy in New York, one that would continue for years with few definitive answers as to the legality of public nudity. Hoffman traces the nudist movement in America back to the efforts of German immigrants who wished to see the same principles of Teutonic Lebensreform (“life reform”) gain a foothold in the U.S., which meant touting nudism as a healthy, therapeutic activity rather than an erotic or lewd physical pursuit. Springing directly from this health-conscious nudist ideology came photo magazines such as Sunshine and Health in the 1940s, with its “highly stylized representations” of the male physique; its envelope-pushing photo shoots featuring exposed male and female genitalia set the censors reeling, namely the U.S. Post Office, which refused to distribute such imagery to the public. In order to survive, the nudist movements in America would increasingly resort to camps and cults situated away from the prying eyes of Middle America; however, the struggle to separate nudism from pornography continued. Although written in mainly flat, academic prose, Hoffman’s book ably traces the ideological development of the American nudist movement from its health-and-fitness beginnings to the more politically charged movement it became in the 1960s and 1970s, and on into the 1990s, when a quasi-mainstreaming of recreational nudity began to surface.

An original, well-researched study that would have benefited from a livelier writing style.

Pub Date: May 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8147-9053-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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