A somewhat superficial yet entertaining romp.

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THE GEOGRAPHY OF GENIUS

A SEARCH FOR THE WORLD'S MOST CREATIVE PLACES FROM ANCIENT ATHENS TO SILICON VALLEY

Where to find innovators.

In the genial style of Bill Bryson, Weiner (Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine, 2011, etc.) scouts the world looking for places that have spawned geniuses. Rejecting the “geniuses-are-born myth,” he learns from one psychology professor that geniuses “do not pop up randomly—but in groupings….Certain places, at certain times, produced a bumper crop of brilliant minds and good ideas.” Brilliant minds and good ideas are not quite the same as genius, but what Weiner is searching for, it turns out, are places where creativity has flourished. He identifies seven, of which a few are not surprising: Athens at the time of Socrates; Florence during the Renaissance; Mozart’s and Freud’s Vienna; and, in our own time, Silicon Valley. Added to these are Hangzhou, China, during the Song Dynasty, from 969 to 1276; the dour city of Edinburgh during the Scottish Enlightenment; and Calcutta, from 1840 to 1920, a period known as the Bengal Renaissance. Weiner is eager to find commonalities among these disparate sites, and of course, he does. Places of genius, he writes, “occupy the center of various cultural currents.” In Calcutta, where cooking, eating, defecating, and urinating all occur in public, the author was struck by the idea that life “lived so publicly increases the amount and variety of stimulation we’re exposed to.” Stimulation is good for creativity, as is “political intrigue, turmoil, and uncertainty.” And intimacy: people inhabiting small places “are more likely to ask questions, and questions are the building blocks of genius.” Intimacy also fosters cross-fertilization of ideas and challenging banter. Woe to a community that becomes complacent or vulnerable to “creeping vanity….Bling has reared its shiny head” in Silicon Valley, Weiner warns, “and that is never a good sign.” After all his travels, the author distills his findings to “the Three Ds: disorder, diversity, and discernment.”

A somewhat superficial yet entertaining romp.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4516-9165-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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A sharp, compelling, and impassioned book.

WHY I'M NO LONGER TALKING TO WHITE PEOPLE ABOUT RACE

A London-based journalist offers her perspective on race in Britain in the early 21st century.

In 2014, Eddo-Lodge published a blog post that proclaimed she was “no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race.” After its viral reception, she realized that her mission should be to do the opposite, so she actively began articulating, rather than suppressing, her feelings about racism. In the first chapter, the author traces her awakening to the reality of a brutal British colonial history and the ways that history continues to impact race relations in the present, especially between blacks and the police. Eddo-Lodge analyzes the system that has worked against blacks and kept them subjugated to laws that work against—rather than for—them. She argues that it is not enough to deconstruct racist structures. White people must also actively see race itself by constantly asking “who benefits from their race and who is disproportionately impacted by negative stereotypes.” They must also understand the extent of the privileges granted them because of their race and work through racist fears that, as British arch-conservative Enoch Powell once said, “the black man will [one day] have the whip hand over the white man.” Eddo-Lodge then explores the fraught question of being a black—and therefore, according to racist stereotype—“angry” female and the ways her “assertiveness, passion and excitement” have been used against her. In examining the relationship between race and class, the author further notes the way British politicians have used the term “white” to qualify working class. By leaving out reference to other members of that class, they “compound the currency-like power of whiteness.” In her probing and personal narrative, Eddo-Lodge offers fresh insight into the way all racism is ultimately a “white problem” that must be addressed by commitment to action, no matter how small. As she writes, in the end, “there's no justice, there's just us.”

A sharp, compelling, and impassioned book.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4088-7055-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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