A dose of strong medicine for a society locked into death on the installment plan.

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FIST STICK KNIFE GUN

A PERSONAL HISTORY OF VIOLENCE IN AMERICA

Part memoir, part social treatise, a wholly sobering view of inner-city violence and the codes surrounding it.

Canada, head of the Rheedlen Center for Children and Families in New York City, moves smoothly back and forth between recollections of his youth in a tough South Bronx neighborhood and ruminations on the changing nature of violence. His transformation from a shy, frightened kid into a street-smart young man who could hold his own in a fight is rendered in a wholly believable, step- by-step manner. The sections on his gradual indoctrination into a clique of hardscrabble young toughs are fascinating, as are the reasons Canada gives for the daily fights among his neighborhood friends: "It was the job of the older boys to 'make us tough' so we wouldn't become victims once we left the block.'' Canada sees an alarming difference between the street codes of his youth in the 1960s and those of today. Life has become increasingly cheap, he contends, due to a confluence of factors. Canada argues that the involvement of children in the drug trade can be directly linked to the tougher drug laws instituted by New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, which mandated stiff jail time for adult drug dealers. He also provides evidence that gun manufacturers have engaged in campaigns aimed at increasing gun use among children—a chilling example of capitalism at its most cynical. He offers some potential solutions, such as forming a peace officer corps and reducing violence on TV and in movies, and ends with a plea for aggressive action to ensure that America's cycle of violence will not be the only legacy we bequeath to our children.

A dose of strong medicine for a society locked into death on the installment plan.

Pub Date: June 9, 1995

ISBN: 0-8070-0422-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1995

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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