Informed, sensible and impassioned.



Washington Post Book World deputy editor Asim rehearses the history of the most noxious word in the English language and dreams of a day when it will disappear from the lexicon.

His text unavoidably rounds up some of the usual suspects detained and examined in Randall Kennedy’s Nigger (2002). Look here for more on Mark Fuhrman, Malcolm X, Bill Cosby and Quentin Tarantino. Asim also hunts down the actual word, pursues it across the terrain of its birth, speculates about its rise to pervasiveness in the writings of some of America’s most revered public figures: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln. He convincingly links stereotypes about black stupidity, criminality and shiftlessness with the N word’s popularity and closely examines films, novels, TV shows, music and other forms of public discourse to see how negative stereotypes flourished even after the word itself began to disappear. He lays at Jefferson’s feet what he calls “niggerology,” the production of “scientific” evidence for blacks’ inferiority. He looks hard at the depiction of blacks in early American fiction, most notably The Spy (1821) and Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). He has kind words for Melville’s work, especially the 1855 novella “Benito Cereno.” Not surprisingly, Asim offers a lengthy commentary on Huckleberry Finn, which he both admires and condemns, arguing that it should not be taught until high school. The author savages Gone with the Wind, likening Margaret Mitchell’s novel to Thomas Dixon’s vile The Clansman and the film it inspired, The Birth of a Nation. Spike Lee, Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle and Paul Mooney emerge as heroes who use the N word to attack racists and racism. But Asim has harsh words for gangsta rappers whose language, he argues, “often abets a white supremacist agenda.” Blacks’ amiable usage of the word with one another, he believes, will delay its deserved demise.

Informed, sensible and impassioned.

Pub Date: April 18, 2007

ISBN: 0-618-19717-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2007

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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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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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