Proponents of an activist central government will find intellectual comfort in these pages—but they will give...

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OUR SECRET CONSTITUTION

HOW LINCOLN REDEFINED AMERICAN DEMOCRACY

A novel consideration of American history offers a fresh view of a foundational document.

Fletcher (Law/Columbia Univ.) argues that the Constitution cleaves into two ill-fitting parts, rather like the Old and New Testaments. The dividing point between them is the Civil War, which called forth a new constitutional order that was devoted less to “voluntary association, individual freedom, and republican elitism” (as the Constitution of 1787 was) than to “organic nationhood, equality of all persons, and popular democracy.” If the source of authority of the first Constitution was “We the people,” then the source for the second was “the nation as defined by history.” This so-called Secret Constitution, whose preamble is the Gettysburg Address, ushered in the program of reconstruction and federation-building that would yield the modern US; in doing so, it inaugurated the era of Big Government, an entity that actively worked to assure equality under the law and in actual practice. This recasting of the government’s role was never made explicit, the author suggests, largely because many state and even federal courts actively opposed the transformation. But even with that opposition, the old order of sovereignty gave way to a new one, in which the states were “enmeshed in the [federal] law and subordinate to it.” This tension between state and federal claims of supremacy endures, Fletcher notes, and nowhere more plainly than in what he considers to be the outmoded and antidemocratic institution of the Electoral College—which he savages in a brilliant closing chapter devoted to the 2000 presidential election.

Proponents of an activist central government will find intellectual comfort in these pages—but they will give anti-federalists fits.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-19-514142-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2001

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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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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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