As laws and mores continue to change at a rapid pace, this engaging study offers helpful historical and legal explanations.

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THE BOUNDARIES OF DESIRE

BAD LAWS, GOOD SEX, AND CHANGING IDENTITIES

This follow-up to lawyer Berkowitz’s Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire (2012) brings Western society’s continued attempt at regulating sexual mores to the present.

Sex, as the author pertinently grasps in this comprehensive survey that moves forward from around the turn of the 19th century, “burns at the intersection of existence, identity and power,” and the way we regard it tells a great deal about our society. Berkowitz covers the enormous changes that have swept sex law in the categories of family and marriage; homosexuality; minors; definitions of obscenity; rape and sexual harassment; and interracial sexual relations and marriage. In each chapter, the author reveals the way that power has been gradually relinquished and fear vanquished. He explores the intractable (until a groundbreaking 1984 decision in New York) legal doctrine of what Berkowitz calls the “Rape-Your-Wife Privilege,” which entitled a husband to force himself on what was legally his property; the increasing availability of birth control, which has allowed women agency over their bodies, especially significant to the health of working and poor women; the breaking of long-held stereotypes about black females being the “root cause of black poverty”; the defeat of what now appears to us astounding prejudice against “feebleminded” women who got pregnant and homosexuals as criminal and deserving of sterilization and incarceration; and how the hysterical terror of the sex offender prompted draconian residence-restriction laws. Sagely, Berkowitz throws some much-needed light on the still-shadowy definition of obscenity (for example, in public performance), pornography (“sexting” by minors, Clarence Thomas’ record of porn-video rentals), and, especially, “the limits of consent” (what constitutes rape in the college setting and who should deal with it). The author cogently exposes what he believes is “panic mentality” in many cases of rape and child molestation.

As laws and mores continue to change at a rapid pace, this engaging study offers helpful historical and legal explanations.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61902-529-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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