An intriguing march to revolution, told here with clarity and insight.

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OCTOBER

THE STORY OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION

The award-winning fiction writer revisits the exciting, messy story of an explosive Russia on the brink of civil war.

London-born novelist and political theorist Miéville (Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories, 2015, etc.) takes on the roiling events of the Russian Revolution on the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik insurrection. From the beginning of 1917, events occurred at a dizzying pace and involved a rich cast of characters, which the author delineates at the end of the book in a “Glossary of Personal Names.” Miéville tells the story in a frank, mannerist fashion. Of course, since readers know the outcome (“purges, gulags, starvation, mass murder”), there is a sense of dark foreboding throughout. The author questions whether it was inevitable that Vladimir Lenin and his cohort would shift increasingly to the left and embrace violent insurrection. No: events were constantly shifting and up in the air, and Miéville presents the action with his novelist’s eye. Looking to the “prehistory of 1917,” the author chronicles the cataclysmic changes in Russia in the late 19th century especially, including emancipation of the serfs in 1861 by Alexander II, who was assassinated by “People’s Will” radicals in 1881. “The man of the future in Russia,” noted populist writer Alexander Herzen, “is the peasant.” The Marxists believed that autocratic Russia was not yet ripe for socialism. Thus, the events that unfolded over the next two decades, as the working class gained confidence and size, were inchoate until brought into sharper focus by external crises such as the Russo-Japanese War, anti-Jewish pogroms, the institution of a “consultative parliament,” the Duma, by Czar Nicolas II, and the deeply unpopular mobilization for war against Germany in 1914. It was a “fraught and protean political culture,” as the author writes, juggling the many activist protagonists such as Leon Trotsky, who was working to incorporate the incendiary ideals of Lenin.

An intriguing march to revolution, told here with clarity and insight.

Pub Date: May 9, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-78478-277-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Verso

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

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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