Like cotton candy—tasty yet somehow insubstantial.

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THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTIONARIES

THE MAKING OF THE MODERN WORLD, 1776-1914

Breezy social history of the inventors and entrepreneurs who transformed society with innovations in infrastructure and technology.

Weightman (London’s Thames, 2005, etc.) seeks to reverse the popular notion of the Industrial Revolution as “driven by some impersonal force.” His collection of individual life stories spans from the first major changes in manufacturing processes and iron smelting in 18th-century England to the growth of indigenous industries in Germany, Japan, France and the United States, which had eclipsed Britain’s supremacy by 1914. As the initially dominant innovator, England teemed with foreign spies maneuvering to uncover the secrets of textile spinning machines. British engineers found lucrative opportunities abroad as they shared expertise in canal building, steam railway, bridge and lighthouse construction. Weightman emphasizes the importance of this British expertise for creating infrastructure and driving innovation in both America and Japan, which also benefited from continental influences. French immigrant E.I. du Pont, fleeing from the Revolution, initiated the development of gunpowder in the United States, and American Samuel F.B. Morse, though he claimed to be the sole inventor of the electric telegraph, in fact built on European discoveries. Many of the worldwide pioneers who furthered technology had no background in engineering, notes the author, but these entrepreneurs partnered with the right technical minds to further their visions. Britain was overtaken as industrial leader in the second stage of the Industrial Revolution, as the age of steel, oil and electricity favored rapidly growing nations such as the United States and Germany. Weightman crams his narrative with anecdotes, such as the Russian fleet, sailing around Africa en route to war with Japan in 1904, taking time out for inland forays to acquire an exotic menagerie including “a boa constrictor which apparently developed a taste for vodka.” This fondness for excessive detail results in the book’s few memorable individuals getting lost among an “army of artisans.”

Like cotton candy—tasty yet somehow insubstantial.

Pub Date: April 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1899-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2009

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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