A tremendously valuable comparative study, with all its shameful conclusions in place.




The bigger the crime, the slower the justice. If the crime is mass murder, this well-crafted title hints, then justice can move at a glacial pace.

Boston Globe foreign correspondent Neuffer drew what for a journalist is a plum assignment: covering the ethnic/civil war in Bosnia in the early 1990s; later, spurred by a colleague’s offhand remark, she added Rwanda, another hellish locale of ethnically fueled violence, to her tour of duty. Here, she revisits those scenes, describing in close detail the ugly wars that broke out in once-quiet places where members of different ethnic groups had long coexisted, more or less peacefully; as she does, she identifies the various social engines and individual actors—Slobodan Milosevic, Theoneste Bagasora, Ratko Mladic, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, et al.—responsible for the genocide that killed or displaced millions of Bosnian Muslims and Rwandan Tutsi. In her careful explication, Neuffer writes as if the reader may have never heard of these formerly obscure locales or persons; because she takes nothing for granted, and is so thorough a narrator, her study is likely to have a long shelf life and be useful to readers for many years. It may take that long, in any case, for some of the principal villains to receive their just deserts. Neuffer suggests, as she recounts the slow process of updating the Geneva Convention and other international accords to accommodate modern savageries, such as wide-scale rape: even today, she writes, “In international humanitarian law . . . there is no specific name given to acts of systematic rape”—and the wanton destruction of whole towns and villages. Throughout, Neuffer decries the fact that the international powers, and especially the US, were so slow to act to stop the slaughter, and she concludes, regretfully, that “there is no one explanation for evil and no one form of justice to combat it,” adding that the world will have to keep trying all the same.

A tremendously valuable comparative study, with all its shameful conclusions in place.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26126-8

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2001

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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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