They’re not all hits, but this is a worthy celebration of the “one essential urban space.”




Literary disquisitions on a fundamental feature of urban life: the public square.

Red Square, Tiananmen Square, Tahrir Square: these are the places around which history has been made. However, writes Michael Kimmelman in this companion to chief editor Marron’s City Parks, such squares are, well, “rarely square”: they may be oval, round, roughly parallelogrammatic, or even free form; when they are square, such as Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, sometimes not a lot of note happens on them for large stretches of time. This handsome little book belongs on urban-studies bookshelves for many reasons, foremost of them the photographs. Together, the dozens of images make a grand testimonial to how people live their lives in public spaces, some of which have been public spaces for thousands of years, others of which are relatively new, the creation of urban planners or accidents of history. In this regard, British writer and diplomat Rory Stewart writes meaningfully of a forlorn space in Kabul, “layered like a mille-feuille cake with bright blue bags and sprinkled with the feces of men and goats,” unlikely to become the tourist destination that the Place des Vosges of Paris has recently transformed into, a place, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik memorably notes, in which “to buy an overpriced lunch in cafés filled with waiters who speak some weary bad-tempered English or German.” Some of the authors, such as Elif Shafak, who writes of Istanbul, and Alma Guillermoprieto, who portrays the Zócalo of Mexico City, should be better known to American readers; others, such as Gopnik and Zadie Smith, are a little overexposed, and Smith’s essay in particular seems tossed-off. Most of the contributions, however, are thoughtful and sometimes even surprising, and if they don’t always make you want to visit the places in question—Kabul comes to mind—they lend an appreciation for the depth of history surrounding them.

They’re not all hits, but this is a worthy celebration of the “one essential urban space.”

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0062380203

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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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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