A blend of accessible economic theory and practical reform, of much interest to any reader whose common cause is with the 99...

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THE CRISIS OF THE MIDDLE-CLASS CONSTITUTION

WHY ECONOMIC INEQUALITY THREATENS OUR REPUBLIC

The declining middle class represents not just a lost economic stratum, but the disappeared basis for the quaint idea of representative democracy.

Rome, Venice, Great Britain: the first republics had their legal footings in constitutions premised on class warfare. By that outlook, a Hobbesian war of each against all pitted the interests of rich against poor, with not much to buffer the two. The genius of the American Constitution, writes Sitaraman (Law/Vanderbilt Law School; The Counterinsurgent’s Constitution: Law in the Age of Small Wars, 2012), is that it “assumes relative economic equality in society [and] assumes that the middle class is and will remain dominant.” Thus, he adds, the Constitution does not preclude the poor from entering, say, the Senate, even though practical reality may not encourage them. Yet, as he also notes, particularly in the years since the Great Recession, markers of inequality have become ever more pronounced; the government seems structured to benefit the interests of the wealthy at the expense of the poor, and the middle class is being squeezed. An adviser to Elizabeth Warren, and therefore on the left end of the left wing, Sitaraman is a proponent of government as an engine for economic reform. As he argues, it was government programs such as the GI Bill and modest home loans that built a strong middle class in the first place, a strong bulwark against the temptations of communism. In the new siege of the middle class on the part of the wealthy, he urges, the old fears of too much power in the hands of the government ought to be replaced by old but dormant fears of power in the hands of the very wealthy. Now, with “power increasingly concentrated in the hands of economic elites,” the reality is squarely back in that class warfare that the Founders so desperately wanted to transcend.

A blend of accessible economic theory and practical reform, of much interest to any reader whose common cause is with the 99 rather than the 1 percent.

Pub Date: March 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49391-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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 PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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