Replete with lots of nifty, whimsical footnotes, this clever, speculative book challenges our beliefs with jocularity and...

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BUT WHAT IF WE'RE WRONG?

THINKING ABOUT THE PRESENT AS IF IT WERE THE PAST

An inquiry into why we’ll probably be wrong about almost everything.

The ever smart, witty, and curious Klosterman (I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined), 2013, etc.) takes on the notion that it’s “impossible to understand the world of today until today has become tomorrow.” One might call that a “klosterism,” and the book is full of them. It’s also full of intelligence and insights, as the author gleefully turns ideas upside down to better understand them. Klosterman is currently obsessed with ideas that are so accepted we dare not dispute them—e.g., gravity. Once upon a time, Aristotle believed things didn’t float away because they were in their “natural place.” Then Newton came along 2,000 years later and changed the way we think. Then Einstein said gravity was really a warping of time and space. Now, scientists are trying to “rethink gravity itself.” Therefore, the author posits, in the future, whenever that may be, we’ll know we were wrong about whatever we thought “gravity” was back then. In each chapter, Klosterman takes on a different topic, applying “Klosterman’s Razor” to it: “the philosophical belief that the best hypothesis is the one that reflexively accepts its potential wrongness to begin with.” He seeks out a variety of experts to assist him. George Saunders and Franz Kafka help him sort out why future literary greats are “at the moment…either totally unknown or widely disrespected.” Physicists Neil deGrasse Tyson and Brian Greene help him explore the concept of a multiverse universe. Others assist Klosterman in taking on the future of rock ’n’ roll (“there are still things about the Beatles that can’t be explained”), time, dreams, democracy, TV shows (Roseanne is an overlooked work of “genius”), and sports. Klosterman is fond of lists and predictions. Here’s one: this book will become a popular book club selection because it makes readers think.

Replete with lots of nifty, whimsical footnotes, this clever, speculative book challenges our beliefs with jocularity and perspicacity.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18412-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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