Weinberger says of the I Ching, “its fragments and aphorisms are meant to be dipped into at random.” One might say the same...



The accomplished essayist, editor, and translator marries a thirst for other worlds with a questing intellect in this challenging menagerie of writings, some previously published.

Weinberger (The Wall, the City, and the World, 2014, etc.) opens with a sufficiently engaging revision of the Adam and Eve story and attendant superstitions but then launches into a rather cryptic continuation of his serial essay An Elemental Thing, which, despite its often elegant poetics, may confound anyone who has not read the earlier installments. It may puzzle even if one has, given the section's preference for the esoteric, the ethereal, and the enigmatic. However, the author saves it with brief but arresting curiosities from a selection of world subcultures. A writer of impressive, sometimes-daunting erudition, Weinberger offsets this first section's forays into the obscure with measured, eye-opening considerations of subjects ranging from incarnations of the Buddha and the I Ching to the literature of the city and Mongol history, including a devastating critique of an exhibit at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. East Indian and Mexican poetry likewise get their due. These exhaustively researched pieces are richly detailed and unfailingly interesting. Contrastingly unrestrained yet telling is his scorched-earth review of George W. Bush's Decision Points. As an aesthete and literary “archaeologist,” Weinberger also exhumes and recovers—or at least re-examines—the artistic reputations of a number of half-forgotten poets, authors, and intellectuals who were lions in their days. This is done with admirable sobriety and finesse and without a trace of hagiography, though for some, it may tend to bog down in minutiae and oddity.

Weinberger says of the I Ching, “its fragments and aphorisms are meant to be dipped into at random.” One might say the same of this book, which dazzles as a repository of knowledge and interpretation but otherwise may be an acquired taste.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2618-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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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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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