A loaded attack on religion redeemed by a useful examination of secularism.



American Humanist Association president Niose provides a thorough examination of modern secular movements in America, while lumping believers together in disdain.

From the beginning of the book, the author pits “Secular Americans” (identified as atheists, agnostics, humanists and those who are generally nonreligious) against “the Religious Right,” an amorphous group who appear throughout as the source of most of America’s ills over the past 30 years. Niose points out that while nonbelievers have always existed in American society, only recently have they begun to act to institute changes in public policy, mainly as a direct reaction to the religious right. Looking back to America’s founding, Niose argues that “a fair assessment of history would reveal that the structure of American government was not intended to be either proreligion or antireligion, but simply neutral on religion.” Where religion did become involved in early American public life, he writes, it was harmful or even disastrous (e.g., the Salem witch trials). Niose echoes the argument of other modern nonbelievers that religion is usually immoral in its effects on society, whereas secularism is untainted by any immoral past. This sets the stage for the author’s extended assault on the religious right, which is characterized as anti-intellectual, hypocritical and belligerent. The most useful part of the book is Niose’s survey of the rise of organized secularism. He discusses important figures in the secular movement, landmark Supreme Court cases and the creation and growth of national organizations. Readers hoping to better understand the background of today’s secular movement will find solid material, and secular activists will applaud the author’s zeal for the cause. The vast majority of religious Americans, however, will not see themselves in this book at all. While it may be understandable that Niose attacks the most radical of the faithful, it is less understandable that he ignores the existence of the vast majority of people of faith.

A loaded attack on religion redeemed by a useful examination of secularism.

Pub Date: July 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-230-33895-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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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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