A fascinating, and delightfully unpretentious, attempt to tackle the biggest question.

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Universal Meaning

IN SEARCH OF THE REASON FOR OUR EXISTENCE

A scientifically grounded search for meaning in a universe that continually reveals itself as ever more complex and capacious.

The more we learn about our dizzyingly expansive universe, first-time author Brown contends, the more humankind is confronted by existential crisis. The “astonishing mosaic of matter and energy that we are just beginning to understand” can create a sense of personal diminishment—how does puny human existence fit within such a cosmology? Brown argues that the universe can be understood, maybe somewhat anthropomorphically, as an exploration for new means of survival, as a preservation instinct writ large. To substantiate this claim, he furnishes a sweeping consideration of the structures that make up the universe, from its constituent parts to our solar system to Earth. If nothing else, this breezily written volume is worth reading for its accessible introduction to cosmology. Brown lucidly discusses competing interpretations of the universe’s origins and subsequent development. People can find purpose and meaning by participating in the maintenance and improvement of the universe’s sustainability, a collective project that not only brings us closer to understanding the totality of life and the cosmos, but to each other: “The path of developing harmony as a necessary prelude to creating meaning for our existence requires us to act uniformly as a species to eliminate the vast inequities in power, wealth and opportunity that are now so prevalent among us.” This is an extraordinarily ambitious investigation that includes consideration of a vast array of subjects, including overpopulation, the nature of violence, and Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing on the National Security Agency. Sometimes the author strays too far afield, seemingly afraid to leave a potentially pertinent topic unmentioned. Brown avoids any dogmatic attachment, however, often insisting that certainty about such difficult matters isn’t possible. This is a worthy attempt to combine the best of what science can offer with an unremitting insistence on the human significance of science’s findings. It’s also a very practical one since, Brown believes, the meaning of our existence seems to demand a heightened level of ecological responsibility.

A fascinating, and delightfully unpretentious, attempt to tackle the biggest question.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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