An engaging, accessible history that, read between the lines, offers commentary on today’s events as well as those of two...

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MORTAL REPUBLIC

HOW ROME FELL INTO TYRANNY

In a timely book of ancient history, an eminent classicist looks at Rome’s decline from representative government to corrupt empire.

What killed the Roman Republic? It wasn’t plague, external enemies, civil war, or corruption, although all of those things played a role. No, writes Watts (Chair, History/Univ. of California, San Diego; Hypatia: The Life and Legend of an Ancient Philosopher, 2017, etc.), author of the superb The Final Pagan Generation (2015). What killed the Republic was its electorate. “A republic is not an organism,” he writes, meaningfully. “It has no natural life span. It lives or dies solely on the basis of choices made by those in charge of its custody.” That electorate chose to trade the freedoms and responsibilities of representative government for the security of the Pax Augusta, for “they came to believe that freedom from oppression could only exist in a polity controlled by one man.” Watts chronicles the death as one by which the ambitions of would-be rulers, bribes offered and accepted, and votes bought and sold all contributed to the arrival of imperial and totalitarian rule. The seeds of destruction had been scattered long before the fact. As the author writes, for instance, even Rome at its height was no stranger to scandals, in one case requiring the unheard-of executions of three Vestal Virgins whose behavior had not, in fact, been appropriately virginal. Still, better angels often spoke, as when Pompey and Crassus, political foes on the brink of civil war, agreed to follow the rules such that “the most powerful men in the Roman state clearly specified that they trusted the system to protect them from their rivals and to allow them to compete fairly within the rules it set." Given that mistrust of institutions is a key ingredient in the collapse of republican rule, as we are witnessing daily, the lesson is pointed.

An engaging, accessible history that, read between the lines, offers commentary on today’s events as well as those of two millennia past.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-465-09381-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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