An absorbing entry into the burgeoning genre about necessary education reforms.



The story of Chris Christie, Cory Booker, Mark Zuckerberg, and the $100 million grant for fixing New Jersey—and possibly all American—schools.

Go back five years, before Booker moved on from his post as mayor of Newark to join Congress; before Christie had fumbled his momentum over some petty payback involving a bridge; before…well, OK, Zuckerberg was already plenty wealth—wealthy and interested in finding a way to enable major shifts in education reform. Booker was a popular mayor, and Christie was a popular governor. Both had aspirations for higher office, and both wanted to get there by instituting major change in New Jersey. So what better arena than the school system of Newark, with its vertigo-inducing rates of dropouts, crumbling school buildings, and shameful academic standings? In her first book, expanded from a serialized New Yorker article, former Washington Post reporter Russakoff tells the story of how Christie leveraged his political power, Booker provided the charisma and inspiring speeches, and together they netted Zuckerberg and a $100 million donation. They raised money from other donors, as well, predicting a battle against entrenched interests on both sides of the aisle intent on maintaining the status quo: unionized teachers and an entire industry of “educational consultant experts” moving from district to district, ostensibly “fixing” many of the problems through trainings, incentive programs, and other initiatives that would, as Christie and Booker noted, serve only to reinforce efforts in directions that had proven ineffective. Russakoff digs deep into the story, examining the seemingly well-intentioned efforts to bring change; the “good-news publicity storm” that Booker mastered, raising his profile while neglecting his responsibilities; Zuckerberg’s amazingly shortsighted faith in the level of control the politicians wielded; and the families caught up in the whirlwind, trying to find a reason to believe in the government’s plans for their schools. An appendix lists all the recipients of the grant money and other funds.

An absorbing entry into the burgeoning genre about necessary education reforms.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-547-84005-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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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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