Every page is a pleasure.

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THE FIDDLER IN THE SUBWAY

AND OTHER GREAT PIECES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

A sparkling collection of features by the Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post columnist.

For readers who come to Weingarten (Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs, 2008, etc.) for humor, there are plenty of smiles and laughs scattered throughout the uniformly strong pieces assembled here. But the author is about more than grins and giggles. In even the slightest of the essays—seeing his daughter off to college, honoring the memory of his childhood baseball hero—his storytelling, keen observation and deft reporting startle and amaze. Whether profiling cartoonist Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau or The Great Zucchini, a little-known children’s entertainer whose messy personal life belies his talent for beguiling preschoolers, Weingarten reliably delivers the goods. He’s equally adept at exhuming quirky stories of the dead, including that of Leslie McFarlane, who as “Franklin W. Dixon” spent a good portion of his frustrated writing career churning out the Hardy Boys mystery series, Mary Hulbert, who died never disclosing the details of her intimate relationship with Woodrow Wilson; and William Jefferson Blythe, killed in a 1946 car crash, who left behind a pregnant wife whose son would grow up to be President Bill Clinton—neither he nor his mother ever knew about Blythe’s previous two marriages (to sisters!) or of the stepbrother one union produced. Weingarten shines especially when he sets himself a puzzle. Which among this country’s many worthy towns merits the distinction as “The Armpit of America?” What’s it like living daily with terror? Is what’s happening at the bedside of a brain-dead girl in Worcester, Mass., a miracle or a hustle? If you pick a place on the map and travel there, will you find a good story? So we journey with him to blighted Battle Mountain, Nev.; ponder communion wafers that allegedly contain blood and icons that weep oil; explore Savoonga, the Bering Sea island where the native Yupiks weather a teen-suicide epidemic; and watch world-class violinist Joshua Bell playing in a train station before thousands of mostly oblivious commuters.

Every page is a pleasure.

Pub Date: July 6, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4391-8159-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2010

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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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