So readers will feel on dipping into this box of snuff. In the hands of a seasoned writer—for some reason Hunter Thompson...




A hyperactive celebration of Erythroxylum coca and its most powerful by-product.

Erythroxylum, British documentary producer Streatfeild oxymoronically writes, is “a peculiarly ordinary-looking shrub native to South America.” Generations of Indians have prized it for its wondrous abilities to propel a person over the tallest mountain or down the longest river, tests of stamina that few connoisseurs outside the Andes have been called on to duplicate; even so, from the earliest days of Spanish colonization, Europeans have been avid for the stuff and have made fortunes in the coca trade. Streatfeild takes a voracious and largely uncritical approach to storytelling; if a datum has anything whatever to do with cocaine, it gets shoved into the narrative somehow, no matter how well known it might be (Sigmund Freud used cocaine, and so did the good chemists at the Coca-Cola plant). He is good in describing the healing effects cocaine has had on the pocketbooks of South American farmers, who can realize four or five times as much profit from the stuff as they could from, say, avocadoes or oranges; he is also good at stating plainly why cocaine has become so ubiquitous in consumer markets around the world: “Here’s the first truth about cocaine: it’s fun. And because it’s fun people want to use it.” Yet Streatfeild too often hides his lamp under a bushel of verbiage, as when he describes first looking into the pages of an English doctor’s medical history of coca: “Initially you pick him up and he sucks you in, but after a short period you begin to feel unwell and you wish you hadn’t started—like the moment in a horror film when you realize that this is actually quite scary stuff, or the feeling when you reach the top of the hill on a roller coaster and it tips forward with a clunk and, despite the fact that there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it, you realize that you’ve made quite a terrible mistake and that actually you’d like to get off now.”

So readers will feel on dipping into this box of snuff. In the hands of a seasoned writer—for some reason Hunter Thompson comes to mind—this might have had some oomph. As it is, best to just say no.

Pub Date: June 17, 2002

ISBN: 0-312-28624-4

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2002

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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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