The author’s comprehensive research makes for absorbing reading as he shows how different people attempted to find...

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PARADISE NOW

THE STORY OF AMERICAN UTOPIANISM

Jennings demonstrates how “no moment in history or place on the globe has been more crowded with utopian longing and utopian experimentation than the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century.”

The many communes established during this time had much in common as they prepared for the second coming. The looming millennium egged on the leaders of these movements, who sought not a place but a time of peace, equality, and abundance. The Shakers, Owenites, Fourierists, Icarians, and Perfectionists attracted scores of people who gave up their lives to join others in search of “the dream of utopia.” All bought large tracts of land, promoted collective ownership, and adhered to a structured workday. The author proffers a number of plausible reasons for the rise of these groups. The Industrial Revolution was eliminating the single artisan, and the arrival of factories fed the economic inequality that condemned people to filthy urban environments. Each group built a small, working prototype community, and each based their group on farm, school, and home, with education and feminine equality paramount. Members came from a broad swath of the population, including Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Dana at the Fourierist Brook Farm. Although they either over- or understressed individuals, none of the groups could grasp the complexity or variety of human desire. Their aims were admirable, but they suffered from a lack of basic agricultural success. The Shakers and Perfectionists succeeded due to their marketable inventions, including clothespins, bear traps, and cutlery. They may have been similar in many ways, but the differences were marked—e.g., Robert Owen worked to shape men to an ideal, while Charles Fourier demanded that institutions adapt to humans. Jennings proves an able guide to these groups, who “proceeded from the assumption that humankind is somehow meant to live in utopia.”

The author’s comprehensive research makes for absorbing reading as he shows how different people attempted to find perfection and how they failed or succeeded.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9370-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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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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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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