A weighty consideration of the cultural politics behind disturbing flash points like the death of Trayvon Martin.

STAND YOUR GROUND

A HISTORY OF AMERICA'S LOVE AFFAIR WITH LETHAL SELF-DEFENSE

A legalistic polemic arguing that the “natural right” of self-defense has been perverted by American gun culture.

Light (Women, Gender, and Sexuality/Harvard Univ.; That Pride of Race and Character: The Roots of Jewish Benevolence in the Jim Crow South, 2014) sees behind American exceptionalism an ugly tradition of violence, initially reserved for white male property owners. Today, she witnesses a troubling movement toward “individual DIY security as the solution to our nation’s most urgent anxieties, [which] criminalizes many who do not fit the terms of idealized citizenship.” She attributes this to “the spread of perceived insecurity, as well as a lack of faith in the protective powers of the government and local police.” This contradicts the common-law roots of self-defense principles, which historically held a duty to retreat. Light examines the case of Thomas Selfridge in 1806, which “provided legal foundation for the gradual decay of the duty to retreat.” Particularly after the bitter collapse of Reconstruction, marked by violence against black self-determination, “nineteenth century debates over self-defense implicitly centered on the urgent need to protect white masculine honor.” These privileges were not extended to women and black people who killed in self-defense, leading civil rights pioneers like Ida B. Wells to paradoxically embrace armed self-defense as “human nature.” This counternarrative manifested in the fascinating tale of African-American defense leagues in the rural South during the civil rights era, which “characterized ‘armed self-reliance’ as a necessity” in the face of threats against community leaders. Today, Light sees gun culture as selectively reminiscent of these historical complexities and devoted to a covert white male supremacy at the expense of others’ safety. The author is a keen legal analyst, deftly examining obscure cases that underlie this historical narrative, but her narrow fixation on identity politics leads her to disparage the broad consensus that “the good citizen is one who takes her own safety seriously.”

A weighty consideration of the cultural politics behind disturbing flash points like the death of Trayvon Martin.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8070-6466-5

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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