A conversational, amusing, instructive look at a landscape too many Americans merely fly over or—if they think of it at...

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SUPERIOR, NEBRASKA

THE COMMONSENSE VALUES OF AMERICA’S HEARTLAND

To the question posed by Thomas Frank’s bestselling What’s the Matter with Kansas? (2004), a journalist responds, much as the Emporia Gazette’s William Allen White did in 1896: “Nothing under the shining sun.”

The Republican River (no, it’s not named after the Party) meanders along the Kansas/Nebraska border, and from the small towns along its banks Boyles (Vile France: Fear, Duplicity, Cowardice and Cheese, 2005, etc.) casually reports for an oftentimes clueless coastal America on the state of political and anthropological affairs. He begins by supplying some geography and history, both personal—the family homestead in Superior, Neb.—and regional—snapshots of pre–Civil War “Bleeding Kansas,” the flood of 1935, the sheer scale of the Midwest as a determinant, the orphan trains that brought 200,000 city kids to the plains between 1853 and 1930. But the author mostly focuses on putting right a number of misconceptions commonly held by cultural elites who never tire of telling Midwesterners what they ought to be thinking and doing. Aren’t all the people “out there” moss-backed Republicans who, unaccountably it seems, vote against their own proper interests? No, voting patterns are not at all monolithic—indeed, they are quite sophisticated. Aren’t all the small towns rapidly depopulating? Yes, though not nearly as quickly as most of the eastern seaboard’s major cities. Aren’t the newspapers dying? The regional dailies, sure, but the local weeklies, specializing in hometown news, are doing quite well. Isn’t Wal-Mart an unalloyed disaster for Main Street? No. Aren’t the people religious fanatics? Yes, from the perspective of a reporter for the AP, NPR or the New York Times. No, if you’re a native accustomed to the Midwest tradition of respect for religious belief, where even a proud Democrat can unashamedly attribute the region’s mostly civil politics to Christ-taught values of love and forgiveness and a deep confidence in the ideas that make democracy work. Except for some occasional vitriol infecting his discussion of the educational, judicial and political establishment, Boyles is a good-natured guide, shaking his head not so much in anger but rather in bemusement at the academics, commentators and rabid partisans who get so much of the Midwest so wrong.

A conversational, amusing, instructive look at a landscape too many Americans merely fly over or—if they think of it at all—misunderstand.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-385-51674-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

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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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