A lively history, though better at describing media sensationalism than the women who were caught up in its whirlwind.




A chronicle of the wild spring and summer of 1924, when Chicago was afflicted with a seeming epidemic of female murderers.

The hit Broadway play Chicago has its roots in the night of March 12, 1924, when Belva Gaertner was arrested for drunkenly shooting her boyfriend Walter Law. The daily newspapers instantly seized on the story in part because Gaertner was the ex-wife of a well-known industrialist, but also because a female killer was an appealing target for Prohibition-era conservatism. The moralizing only intensified a month later, when Beulah Annan stood accused of shooting her lover—dancing to a jazz record while his body lay cold, some reported—and a young bohemian named Wanda Stopa was on the run from authorities for killing a man in jealous fury. Oregonian online features editor Perry (co-author: The Sixteenth Minute: Life in the Aftermath of Fame, 2005) provides consistently entertaining back stories on these women and others in the Cook County Jail, but more interesting is the author’s exploration of the sexist attitudes that turned the women on “Murderess’ Row” into odd celebrities. (One female inmate was likely saved from hanging simply by making herself look more attractive at a court appearance.) Perry also captures the hypercompetitive newspaper culture that fueled the alleged trend, following the cases through the eyes of Chicago Tribune reporter Maurine Watkins. Breaking through a sexist newsroom culture to deliver slyly satirical—if not entirely accurate—dispatches on the women’s trials, Watkins occasionally pushed the bounds of journalistic integrity to argue that Gaertner and Annan were guilty. After both were acquitted and public interest moved elsewhere, she abandoned journalism to skewer scandal-sheet culture in her play Chicago. In a similar manner, Perry critiques the newspapers for being ruthlessly eager to play loose with facts and reduce the women to news fodder. But his prose sometimes echoes the papers’ pulpy tone, reflecting his comment in the endnotes that the media tended to overdramatize events.

A lively history, though better at describing media sensationalism than the women who were caught up in its whirlwind.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-670-02197-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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