A fine corrective to the traditional David-vs.-Goliath account of our War of Independence and a thoroughly entertaining read.




A fresh look at the Revolutionary War from an international perspective.

That America, with help from France, won independence by defeating the mighty British Empire may be the History Channel view, but it cuts no ice with the dozen international historians in this collection of lively, generously illustrated essays, a companion to a current exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. In their view, which is not controversial, the war began in 1775 as a Colonial rebellion but attracted attention from Britain’s European rivals, who supported it not-so surreptitiously and then openly. European powers offered a more potent threat than Colonial rebels. As naval history professor Andrew Lambert writes, they “could invade Britain, disrupt British trade, and attack British possessions in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and India….Responding to these threats took priority over subduing the rebel colonists.” Soon after France declared war in 1778 (Spain joined in 1779), Britain re-evaluated its strategy. Trade, not national glory, supported its empire, and West Indian sugar islands were far more lucrative than North America. The same was true of Asia. By 1780, Britain was engaged in a life-or-death struggle, its outnumbered army and navy battling across the world from India to Africa to Latin American to the Mediterranean. After 1778, it sent more troops to the West Indies than to America. Some of those regiments were sent from America itself. Most startling of all, the contributors conclude that Britain won the world war. Losing the Colonies was upsetting, but France was bankrupt and Spain more moribund than ever. Britain became absolute master of the sea (always its first priority) and acquired a slew of new colonies. Within a generation, she possessed a new empire more extensive than the old. In addition to editors Allison and Ferreiro, the contributors include Alan Taylor, John Garrigus, and Kathleen DuVal.

A fine corrective to the traditional David-vs.-Goliath account of our War of Independence and a thoroughly entertaining read.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58834-633-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Smithsonian Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“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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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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