CHARMER

A LADY'S MAN AND HIS VICTIMS

Best-selling true-crime writer Olsen's latest account of psychopathic terror is little more than a chronological retelling of the basic facts. This time Olsen (The Misbegotten Son, 1993, etc.) looks at George Russell, who, after an adolescence characterized by minor offenses like marijuana violations and the theft of a friend's rare penny, committed the extraordinarily grisly murders of three women, for which he was convicted and sentenced to life. The book is split in two. The first half lopes through Russell's various oddities and abusive relationships with women, and the second half dives into the pulp, the awful acts of a maniac. Olsen's reporting is as plodding and unimaginative as this color-by-numbers structure suggests. He intimates that a dance club called the Black Angus, where Russell spent much of his time, fueled the future murderer's latent sexual anger. It was there that Russell sat beside the DJ booth reading a newspaper and drinking some of the drinks included on the bar's extensive list of mixers. Unfortunately for the reader, Olsen feels the need to catalogue the suggestively named drinks—e.g., ``Sex on the Beach'' and ``The Sloe Screw''—as well as their every ingredient, loading them in the meanwhile with an exaggerated significance as portents of Russell's violent misogyny. The stretch is typical of the book, which has the feel of uninteresting or mishandled material. Olsen ominously sprinkles the text with references to Russell's race (he is black) but does nothing with it, leaving the reader with an incomplete picture of the man and his motivations. The book's overall weakness is highlighted by its liberal use of quotations from books by psychologists on psychopaths as Olsen scrambles for the cover of ``expert'' testimony that adds nothing. Olsen weakly justifies his stripped-down narrative by saying that, unlike creative true-crime writers like Truman Capote or Joseph Wambaugh, he is among those who ``try to remain with the facts.'' Russell's compulsion to kill is less in evidence here than is Olsen's compulsion to churn out yet another murderous tale. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 1994

ISBN: 0-688-10903-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994

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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.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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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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