Your mileage, as they say, may vary where this shrewd cultural historian—and shallow contemporary observer—is concerned....



The scholar and culture warrior comes out swinging with an overstuffed omnibus that hits and misses in equal measure.

Ever since the publication of her extraordinary 1990 critical study Sexual Personae, Paglia (Humanities and Media Studies/Univ. of the Arts, Philadelphia; Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism, 2017, etc.) has been somewhat of a split personality, and some readers may wish her two sides could be separated. Keep the artist/critic, the excavator of cultural mysteries, the scold of higher education, and the daunting interpreter of art and poetry whose book Break, Blow, Burn (2005) is a masterpiece; banish the self-promoter who often gets triggered by liberalism and feminism. The present volume, which collects the author’s work from Washington Post Book World, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, ARTnews, the Hollywood Reporter, and many other diverse publications, is both brilliant and occasionally obnoxious. Paglia covers a vast swath of society and culture at large, including sections on popular culture, literature, education, art, politics, and more. She is still at her fiery intellectual best as a teacher, whether she’s throwing out odd but intriguing comparisons—Captain Ahab and Ziggy Stardust are both “scarred by lightning,” each “a voyager who has defied ordinary human limits and paid the price”—or deciphering poetry, happily butchering sacred cows along the way. (Wallace Stevens “ended his career with a laborious, plodding, skeletal style, employed in self-questioning poems of numbing length.”) Paglia loves classic rebels, including Dylan, Dalí, Picasso, Warhol, and the gay artist Tom of Finland, but she’s equally inclined to power. She writes fondly of Ayn Rand, a “bold female thinker who should immediately have been a centerpiece of women’s studies programs”; New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (“I am frankly enjoying his assault on the arts establishment”); and Sarah Palin (“like Annie Oakley, a brash ambassador from America’s pioneer past”).

Your mileage, as they say, may vary where this shrewd cultural historian—and shallow contemporary observer—is concerned. Take it or leave it: This career retrospective is both maddening and essential.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4689-6

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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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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