A wide-ranging and urgently readable moral manifesto on the importance of veracity.

TOO SCARED TO TELL

THE DARK SIDE OF TELLING THE TRUTH

A sweeping examination of the costs and challenges of telling the truth.

At the beginning of his book, Corbin invokes a very familiar dictum, something every one of his readers will have heard at some point in their lives: “Nobody likes a tattletale.” Corbin points out the obvious: The idea of “don’t talk or else” permeates virtually every level and aspect of society. Whether it’s domestic abuse victims naming their abusers or criminal witnesses identifying suspects or even young people pointing out which of their peers is bullying them, Corbin’s account aims to consider the broadest possible array of what he calls the very courageous act of whistleblowing, and the author cogently examines the deeper levels of collateral damage that accumulate around society’s knee-jerk characterization of whistleblowing as somehow weak or disloyal. “Does the cultural repugnance for people who tell about illegal or unethical activity,” he asks, “lead to an acceptance of a certain amount of wrong doing, from lying and cheating to criminal activity?” The book covers various types of truth telling, the consequences, and the sometimes surprising resistance to being honest—even from those who otherwise consider themselves ethical. “Co-workers view whistleblowing as jeopardizing them and their family’s wellbeing—a regular pay check and health benefits,” Corbin writes, “and they’re not afraid to say so.” The author fleshes out the narrative with many examples drawn from real cases of whistleblowing—everything from corporate espionage to ordinary homeowners dealing with the appearance of suburban crack houses.

Corbin writes all this with a refreshing lack of fuss; his prose is forceful without being strident, and the many examples he gives—of both bravery and cowardice in the face of the need to reveal charged facts—are powerfully and economically drawn. These examples move all along the spectrum of the subject, including, of course, such famous whistleblowers as Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden, whose stories are told with the sharpness of genuine moral outrage. “While Snowden’s detractors were busy crying ‘Treason!’ (which only applies during a war) and demanding that he face the death penalty, they ignore the inconvenient fact that everything NSA was doing was not only in clear violation of federal law, but that a violation of that law carries a prison sentence,” he writes in one such passage. “Has anyone from NSA been charged? Short answer—No.” Some of the author’s judgments on various aspects of whistleblowing can be surprisingly harsh, as in the case of his angry, seemingly hypocritical dismissal of the U.S. Witness Protection Program instituted to protect people who testify against organized crime. “Hiding may be highly desirable for snitches and criminals who live on the margins of life,” he writes, but “it doesn’t work for regular people.” Corbin’s unwavering dedication to the core of his subject—the paramount importance of telling the truth—gives all of his various discussions a compelling moral force. Any reader who’s ever faced this kind of choice—and that’s virtually every reader—will find thought-provoking and sometimes uncomfortable reading in these pages.

A wide-ranging and urgently readable moral manifesto on the importance of veracity.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5069-0993-6

Page Count: 150

Publisher: First Edition Design Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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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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