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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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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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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