A provocative book that will make readers more aware of terrible things done in their names.

A probing investigation of the morally ambiguous tasks that are done with our tacit consent.

Press opens by recounting the story of sociologist Everett Hughes, who visited Germany soon after the end of World War II and encountered professionals who, while repudiating Nazism, also quietly noted that there was a “Jewish problem” that simply met the wrong solution. Hughes returned from the conversation with the idea that the Nazis were enabled by an “unconscious mandate” from German society. From this, Press builds a case that enfolds the “dirty work” conducted by our contemporary mandate—not the grimy work of mechanics and garbage collectors, but instead that of drone operators, prison guards and staff, and meat packers. All of these, writes the author, were considered “essential workers” during the pandemic, if low-paid ones and often without health care benefits, paid leave, and protection from the virus. In the case of the slaughterhouse workers—overwhelmingly members of ethnic minorities and often in the country illegally—the plants in which they labored were “ordered to stay open even as scores of laborers died and tens of thousands fell ill.” Slaughterhouses—and prisons and drone facilities—are tucked away in mostly poor, mostly minority communities to keep them from troubling the consciences of the more privileged. Most of these people would rather be doing something else, of course. The prison workers Press profiles, for instance, are inclined to settle their own consciences via liberal self-medication of drugs and alcohol, and they suffer suicide rates far higher than those in the general population. All this dirty work, Press writes, is enabled by “passive democrats” who are perfectly content not to know about the unpleasant details of jobs done on their behalf. He closes his account, meaningfully, with a ceremony at a VA hospital in which soldiers confess their “moral transgressions” while civilians acknowledge, “We share responsibility with you.”

A provocative book that will make readers more aware of terrible things done in their names.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-14018-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021


From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020


A wide-ranging collection of testaments to what moves the heart.

Black Americans declare their love.

This anthology brings together dozens of love letters by prominent Black Americans. The entries, interspersed with illustrations, address an eclectic mix of topics arranged under five categories: Care, Awe, Loss, Ambivalence, and Transformation. In their introduction, editors Brown and Johnson note the book’s inspiration in the witnessing of violence directed at Black America. Reckonings with outrage and grief, they explain, remain an urgent task and a precondition of creating and sustaining loving bonds. The editors seek to create “a site for our people to come together on the deepest, strongest emotion we share” and thus open “the possibility for shared deliverance” and “carve out a space for healing, together.” This aim is powerfully realized in many of the letters, which offer often poignant portrayals of where redemptive love has and might yet be found. Among the most memorable are Joy Reid’s “A Love Letter to My Hair,” a sensitive articulation of a hard-won sense of self-love; Morgan Jerkins’ “Dear Egypt,” an exploration of a lifelong passion for an ancient world; and VJ Jenkins’ “Pops and Dad,” an affirmation that it “is beautiful to be Black, to be a man, and to be gay.” Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts’ “Home: A Reckoning” is particularly thoughtful and incisive in its examination of a profound attachment, “in the best and worst ways,” to Louisville, Kentucky. Most of the pieces pair personal recollections with incisive cultural commentary. The cumulative effect of these letters is to set forth a panorama of opportunities for maintaining the ties that matter most, especially in the face of a cultural milieu that continues to produce virulent forms of love’s opposite. Other contributors include Nadia Owusu, Jamila Woods, Ben Crump, Eric Michael Dyson, Kwame Dawes, Jenna Wortham, and Imani Perry.

A wide-ranging collection of testaments to what moves the heart.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2023

ISBN: 9781638931201

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Get Lifted Books/Zando

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023

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