Politically to your taste or not, the work is a salubrious tonic to the blinkered toxicity of the unlimited-progress mindset.




Surgical pathologist Heffner argues that the notion of unlimited progress creates a perilous optimism in both the scientific and socio-political realms.

Humans' faith in "progress" has become delusional, writes Heffner in this dense but well-guided foray into the roots and foibles of our giddy optimism that all technological and social quandaries have answers. In part, the roots of this optimism can be found in the period following the Industrial Revolution up until about the middle of the 20th century. It was then that technological/scientific progress was so spectacular that its great leaps forward infected society with a sense of unending betterment, or at least impending solutions. Science was ascendant, its objectivity and logical positivism applicable even in the social sphere: home economics, the science of administration, political science. Such headiness is a chimera, cautions Heffner; science has its limits, and it isn’t as tidy, logical or formally objective as many claim. This is especially true in the arenas that saw terrific advancement, such as medicine and transportation. Heffner provides numerous examples of a pervasive attitude that assumes that problems can be approached from a predictable, digital aspect, whereas many are more analog—continuous and unpredictable—in manner, from chemical signals leaping the synaptic cleft, to the biochemical processes of DNA and cellular instability, to weather forecasting and nuclear fusion. Heffner claims “trying to control or cure…cancer by tinkering with DNA can be seen as similar to trying to control the contour of fallen snow by altering some of the details of snowflakes.” Chaos theory seems more pertinent, tiny input parameter uncertainties resulting in unpredictable, sometimes huge, effects. Having entered into a period of diminishing research returns, incremental changes are in order. Heffner sees this as applying to the socio-political terrain as well. Here readers can joust with his conservatism—“Since the risk of calamity to the train may be increasing, the brakemen are becoming more indispensable”—and his own heady optimism that worthwhile change will receive “due bipartisan support,” vested interests be damned.

Politically to your taste or not, the work is a salubrious tonic to the blinkered toxicity of the unlimited-progress mindset.

Pub Date: July 13, 2010

ISBN: 978-1450237864

Page Count: 136

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2010

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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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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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