A nicely balanced blend of pop science and personal essay, and just the thing for the family southpaw.



Science journalist Wolman offers a spirited defense of left-handedness, which he takes to be one more sign of the wondrous diversity of nature.

Sinister, gauche, leftist: What’s a self-respecting southpaw to do in the face of so much semantic freight, and the world’s misunderstanding generally? Well, writes Wolman, it’s not necessarily true that all southpaws are born curve-ball pitchers, but the 10–12 percent of humans who are left-handed are interestingly different—“not starkly different…but not trivial in their differences either”—from their right-handed peers. The left and right sides of the human brain are separate, bridged by the corpus callosum, which passes information between the two halves. Yet, early science to the contrary, right-handers don’t do all their thinking on the left side and lefties on the right; there’s a lot more to it than that, even if Wolman favors a gods-for-clods approach, for beyond the two facts that the brain halves are distinct and joined by the corpus callosum, he writes, “there’s no need to be weighed down with more brainy lingo.” Aspiring brain surgeons need not fear, however: Even though written at a lay-accessible level, Wolman’s narrative is robust, treating all kinds of conjectures as to what causes the distinction between right and left—likely, in the end, some little evolutionary jog that permits lots of asymmetry in a species that prizes the adaptive advantages of symmetry, such as having two legs and two eyes that are more or less equal. Happily for lefties, who are “cool because they allow you to un-confound two hypotheses,” there’s no evidence that handedness relates to intelligence or ability, or that lefties are bewitched or weird or doomed, or that all those other prejudices of yore have any foundation.

A nicely balanced blend of pop science and personal essay, and just the thing for the family southpaw.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-306-81415-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Da Capo Lifelong

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2005

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This exciting collective biography features ten important women in the historic struggle to win freedom and civil rights. Pinkney (Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra, 1998, etc.) tells the well-known stories of Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. Other women such as Biddy Mason and Dorothy Irene Height are in the history books but are less familiar. They span the 18th and 19th centuries, from Sojourner Truth, born into slavery circa 1797, to Shirley Chisholm, born in 1924 and living today. Each story contains essential demographic and biographical information written in an accessible, informal style, which provides a vivid picture of the women’s lives, their personalities, backgrounds, and the actions that made them memorable. Many of the women also had to fight against prejudice toward women in addition to their causes. Some did not live to see the results of their struggle, but successful or not, all were courageous leaders who paved the way for a more democratic and inclusive America. The introduction gives the reader a glimpse into Pinkney’s own life and her rationale for the selection of biographies. A bibliography for further reading lists what are probably her research sources, but are not identified as such and quotations within the chapters are not footnoted in any way. Another quibble is a small mistake in the biography of Dorothy Irene Height as to the two degrees she received in four years. Both were in educational psychology, but Pinkney lists the bachelor’s as in social work. However, these flaws do not compromise the value of the book. Alcorn’s (Langston Hughes, not reviewed, etc.) paintings, oil on canvas, are as magnificent as his figures and add much to this handsome volume. Vibrant colors, rhythmic lines, and collage-like compositions are allegorical in design and convey the essence of each woman and her work. A truly inspiring collection for personal as well as institutional libraries. (Biography. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-15-201005-X

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2000

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Provocative reading for anyone concerned about the intersection of race and capital punishment.



The story of the Supreme Court decision McCleskey v. Kemp (1987), which underscores “the lingering racial and socioeconomic inequalities endemic to capital punishment in the United States.”

In 1978 in Atlanta, Georgia, Warren McCleskey, an African-American, was arrested for killing a white police officer during a furniture store robbery. After years of litigation, writes Maratea (The Politics of the Internet: Political Claims-making in Cyberspace and How It’s Affecting Modern Political Activism, 2014, etc.), his death penalty sentencing was upheld by the Supreme Court in a decision that overlooked “compelling empirical data suggesting that Georgia’s death process was replete with systemic racial bias.” McCleskey was executed in 1991. In this thoughtful and disturbing account, the author traces the story of the case. He argues not that McCleskey was innocent but that he was sentenced to death under a system in which killers of white people were four times more likely as killers of blacks to be sentenced to death. The latter assertion, made by McCleskey’s lawyers, was based on a “detailed and peer-reviewed” study of 2,500 Georgia murder cases by University of Iowa law professor David C. Baldus. He concluded that all individuals convicted of murdering whites were far more likely to receive the death penalty. In its 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the defense failed to show evidence of deliberate bias by law officials and dismissed the data on disparities in sentencing as inevitable in the criminal justice system. Noting that the decision “affirmed institutionalized racial disparities” in the capital punishment system, Maratea examines the force of “old habits of mind and racial attitudes” going back to the Civil War era. He finds that “capital punishment has borne a close resemblance to lynching in Georgia, where more extralegal executions of black Americans occurred than in any other state.” As lynchings declined in the 20th-century South, “the infliction of the death penalty by the courts increased,” according to historian William S. McFeely.

Provocative reading for anyone concerned about the intersection of race and capital punishment.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4798-8860-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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