Overall, she has produced a well-organized work of thoughtful popular history that displays considerable wit and verve, and...

WHAT IS MARRIAGE FOR?

Why wed? As a financial investment? To have sex? To reproduce the species? To link two families together? This highly informative and enjoyable romp through the history of marriage in Western Europe and the United States looks at all these reasons and more.

Graff, a Boston-based journalist who has written for such diverse publications as the New York Times, Ms., and Out, has organized her book into six thematic chapters, entitled “Money,” “Sex,” “Babies,” “Kin,” “Order,” and “Heart.” Her progression is telling, for part of Graff’s story concerns the long evolution of marriage from an investment in property (including the bride’s womb) and security to what she refers to as the “compassionate marriage.” A second major theme is the growth of women’s rights, both in the decision to wed another—the Roman wedding ceremony usually involved an exchange of statements between the groom and his father-in-law—and, far more recently, in terms of property and custody of children in case of divorce. Tracing three broad religious perspectives, Graff, perhaps somewhat simplistically, notes the premodern Catholic antimarriage focus on celibacy, the early Protestant celebration of marriage, provided it involved “reproduction,” and the distinctly modern Jewish emphasis on “refreshment” (promarriage and prosex for the purpose of happiness and intimacy). She occasionally digresses a bit too long from her main themes, as when discussing the 19th-century Mormon practice of polygamy. While she has done a great deal of research, she covers so much religion and social and legal history that, inevitably, she cites some dubious statistics ("roughly 20 percent of adult women report having been sexually abused as children") and occasionally simplifies a religious law or historical practice. Graff also argues persuasively, if too repetitively, for the validity of gay and lesbian marriage.

Overall, she has produced a well-organized work of thoughtful popular history that displays considerable wit and verve, and that is in equal measure instructive and entertaining.

Pub Date: June 28, 1999

ISBN: 0-8070-4114-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1999

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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