For economics and political-science students, surely, but also for the general reader who will appreciate how gracefully the...

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WHY NATIONS FAIL

THE ORIGINS OF POWER, PROSPERITY, AND POVERTY

Following up on their earlier collaboration (Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, 2005), two scholars examine why some nations thrive and others don’t.

Neither geography, nor culture, nor mistaken policies explain the vast differences in prosperity among nations. The reasons for world inequality, write Acemoglu (Economics/MIT) and Robinson (Government/Harvard Univ.), are rooted in politics, in whether nations have developed inclusive political institutions and a sufficiently centralized state to lay the groundwork for economic institutions critical for growth. In turn, these economic institutions give citizens liberty to pursue work that suits their talents, a fairly enforced set of rules and incentives to pursue education and technological innovation. When these conditions are not met, write the authors, when the political and economic institutions are “extractive,” failure surely follows. It matters not if the Tsars or the Bolsheviks governed Russia, if the Qing dynasty or Mao ruled China, if Ferdinand and Isabella or General Franco reigned in Spain—all absolutism is the same, erecting historically predictable barriers to prosperity. The critical distinction between, say, North and South Korea, lies in the vastly different institutional legacies on either side, one open and responsive to the needs and aspirations of society, the other closed with power narrowly distributed for the benefit of a few. In their wide-ranging discussion, Acemoglu and Robinson address big-picture concepts like “critical junctures” in history—the Black Death, the discovery of the Americas, the Glorious Revolution—which disrupt the existing political and economic balance and can abruptly change the trajectory of nations for better or worse. They also offer a series of small but telling stories in support of their thesis: how the wealth of Bill Gates differs from the riches of Carlos Slim, why Queen Elizabeth I rejected a patent for a knitting machine, how the inmates took over the asylum in colonies like Jamestown and New South Wales and why the Ottoman Empire suppressed the printing press.

For economics and political-science students, surely, but also for the general reader who will appreciate how gracefully the authors wear their erudition.

Pub Date: March 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-71921-8

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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