Waging war against the Earth is an old business, and this book provides ample—and dispiriting—evidence for it.

SCORCHED EARTH

ENVIRONMENTAL WARFARE AS A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY AND NATURE

A Princeton historian examines the shameful destruction of the environment as an instrument of war.

Ecocide, the destruction of ecosystems in order to bring suffering upon the people living within them, is not an international crime—not yet, anyway, although Kreike notes that “several individual states have defined ecocide as a crime.” Aggressor states that employ scorched-earth techniques of battling enemies can always plead military necessity—and so they often have in places such as the grain belt of the Ukraine or the Brabant in Holland, looting what they could carry and then destroying what they could not to deny provisions to other armies or even civilian populations. As Kreike notes of territories destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War, when seed corn and corn for eating were stored and then burned together, an aggressor force can deny another population food for two years—which, of course, amounts to genocide. The author recounts numerous episodes of just that: the use of eco-terror tactics against the people of Sumatra by the Dutch at the turn of the 20th century, the twin roles of plague and starvation in crushing the Inca Empire, the “Famine of the Dams” wrought on Indigenous peoples in South Africa by the actions of the White government, which placed economic development above their survival. “Loss of the environmental infrastructure was disastrous in the semi-arid floodplain. During the wet season, it meant exposure to cold, humidity, and disease. During the dry season, it meant hunger, thirst, and blistering heat,” writes Kreike—and that instance of “environcide” was by no means confined to the floodplain of a South African river, but has instead been repeated in places such as the Amazon basin. Famine, plague, destruction of food and water supplies: It all adds up to a heady catalog of crimes that warring states have too often applied and show no signs of eschewing in future conflicts.

Waging war against the Earth is an old business, and this book provides ample—and dispiriting—evidence for it.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-691-13742-1

Page Count: 538

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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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This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK MAN

A former NFL player casts his gimlet eye on American race relations.

In his first book, Acho, an analyst for Fox Sports who grew up in Dallas as the son of Nigerian immigrants, addresses White readers who have sent him questions about Black history and culture. “My childhood,” he writes, “was one big study abroad in white culture—followed by studying abroad in black culture during college and then during my years in the NFL, which I spent on teams with 80-90 percent black players, each of whom had his own experience of being a person of color in America. Now, I’m fluent in both cultures: black and white.” While the author avoids condescending to readers who already acknowledge their White privilege or understand why it’s unacceptable to use the N-word, he’s also attuned to the sensitive nature of the topic. As such, he has created “a place where questions you may have been afraid to ask get answered.” Acho has a deft touch and a historian’s knack for marshaling facts. He packs a lot into his concise narrative, from an incisive historical breakdown of American racial unrest and violence to the ways of cultural appropriation: Your friend respecting and appreciating Black arts and culture? OK. Kim Kardashian showing off her braids and attributing her sense of style to Bo Derek? Not so much. Within larger chapters, the text, which originated with the author’s online video series with the same title, is neatly organized under helpful headings: “Let’s rewind,” “Let’s get uncomfortable,” “Talk it, walk it.” Acho can be funny, but that’s not his goal—nor is he pedaling gotcha zingers or pleas for headlines. The author delivers exactly what he promises in the title, tackling difficult topics with the depth of an engaged cultural thinker and the style of an experienced wordsmith. Throughout, Acho is a friendly guide, seeking to sow understanding even if it means risking just a little discord.

This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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