Engaging cross-cultural tale of ancient peoples and modern desires.




Fusion of geological treatise and adventure yarn, exploring the mysteries of Central American jade.

During his research about explorer Alexander von Humboldt, Helferich (Humboldt’s Cosmos, 2005, etc.) learned about jade’s importance to pre-Columbian societies: “To peoples such as the Maya, jade was not only heartbreakingly beautiful but supremely powerful.” Over time, archaeological expeditions revealed a trail of discoveries that proved the Mesoamericans used jade to create objects for every purpose, and even considered it to have mystical powers. Yet the sources of the mineral remained lost. Through much of the 20th century, adventurers like Edward Thompson, who recovered more than 5,000 jades from a sacred Mayan well in 1909, added to the historical record while shamelessly shipping their finds off to sponsors and museums like the Peabody, without solving this fundamental mystery. In the early 1970s, an American speculator named Jay Ridinger impulsively relocated to San Miguel, Mexico, and became intrigued by the idea of searching for jade. Ridinger would be credited with the revival of the Central American jade industry, although for years it appeared a fool’s errand, especially considering that only certain types of Asian jade were then considered valuable. (Helferich notes that in both Olmec and Chinese cultures, jade “was considered nothing less than virtue incarnate.”) In Guatemala, Ridinger and his prospecting partner (who eventually became his wife, and continues to run their business) were regarded as “idiotas, outlandish but harmless”—until they found a jade deposit near the Motagua River and purchased the surrounding acreage. Despite numerous setbacks, including the threat of civil war, the Ridingers eventually established a business, creating new carvings that represented jade’s “deep history and its ties to the great civilizations of the past.” Helferich delivers a lively narrative, notwithstanding passages focused on the scientific minutiae underlying the Ridingers’ improbable success.

Engaging cross-cultural tale of ancient peoples and modern desires.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-7627-6351-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Lyons Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2011

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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...


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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