An astute, affecting remembrance of an eventful life and time.

EDUCATOR AND ACTIVIST

MY LIFE AND TIMES IN THE QUEST FOR ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

Bryant recounts his accomplished career as an activist advocating for racial and environmental justice.

Born in 1935 during the Great Depression, Bryant spent his early youth in Little Rock, Arkansas, largely cloistered from the reality of racism in a “small, close knit world.” In fact, the “system of racial apartheid that governed our lives” only came to his full awareness gradually—until it was brought home forcefully by a tragedy he experienced while in the second grade. Fellow classmate Lee Andrew Peters died while trying to make his way home during a storm, a death that might have been avoided if the Black neighborhood he lived in was constructed as well as the White neighborhoods. This disaster effectively shattered the author’s “sheltered existence” and brought to his attention an issue that would form the fulcrum of his work as an activist: the ways racial discrimination causes environmental injustice. Bryant would go on to have an impressive career both as an academic and as a social justice advocate. During the tumultuous ’60s and ’70s, he opposed war and was immersed in the civil rights movement as a member of the Congress of Racial Equity. He was also a founding member of the Environmental Advocacy Program at the University of Michigan—a groundbreaking organization. The author was eventually appointed to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council under President Bill Clinton. Bryant came to adopt and evangelize nonviolent protest, a philosophy he presents with great clarity as well as candor: “I was well aware that I’m no moral superstar. I’m just an average person. At times I felt brave, at other times I felt fearful. Sometimes, in the face of violent and racist language spewed at me, I had to void myself of feelings of both love and hate in order to survive emotionally and control my violent instincts.”

Bryant furnishes a vivid depiction of the civil rights movement during its most turbulent times—when the resistance to equal rights was at its zenith in the United States. His commentary on the racial tensions within the world of higher education is particularly instructive, especially his account of the ways college administrations, even unwittingly, pushed policies that created racial disparities. Furthermore, the author ably limns the differences between his youthful experiences in both the North and the South—his family moved to Flint, Michigan, in 1943; while his new community was officially desegregated, he sensed an unmistakable alienation there. He writes, “Still, there was something sinister about Flint, particularly by the time we got to be teenagers. We lived in racially segregated communities, even though the public schools were desegregated. When Negroes moved into a white community, whites would move out.” Bryant’s memoir can lean too much into granular, personal detail—it likely could have been shorter and more focused. Nonetheless, he provides a lucid account of an admirable life devoted to praiseworthy causes and an insightful synopsis of a troubled time in the nation’s history.

An astute, affecting remembrance of an eventful life and time.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-953943-13-2

Page Count: 318

Publisher: Rivertowns Books

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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