Clever, insightful essays on motherhood as “the ultimate scapegoat for our personal and political failings.”

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MOTHERS

AN ESSAY ON LOVE AND CRUELTY

In her latest book, Rose (co-director, Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities; Women in Dark Times, 2014, etc.) examines how motherhood is broken apart, chewed, and spat back out.

“By calling on mothers to hold up the skies,” she writes, “we blind ourselves to the world’s iniquities and shut down the portals of the heart. Unless we recognize what we are asking mothers to perform in the world—and for the world—we will continue to tear both the world and mothers to pieces.” The author seeks to understand exactly what is being asked of mothers on a daily basis and to distill those demands into succinct causalities. Recognizing mothers as the glue that holds everything together, Rose is convinced that mothers carry too onerous a responsibility in ensuring the health of their children, their families in general, and, ultimately, society. “Behind each and every child there is a story of mothers to be told.” The author traces the progression of the roles of women in society through history, invoking the authoritative voices of Simon de Beauvoir, Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, D.W. Winnicott, Melanie Klein, and more. Among other topics, Rose tackles the difficult terrain of mother and child affection; the responsibility of the mother to guide her child toward adulthood; and society’s changing expectations of working (and single) mothers. She carefully identifies the boundaries of her line of inquiry and brings everything back to the book’s central idea: “There will always be a limit to what mothers can do for their child, and therefore—the unavoidable but mostly avoided consequence—to what we can ask of a mother.” For those readers interested not just in feminist theory, but also gender theory as it relates to parenting, this will be a rewarding reading experience.

Clever, insightful essays on motherhood as “the ultimate scapegoat for our personal and political failings.”

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-21379-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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