A useful attempt to understand a still-unfolding story.

THE ARAB UPRISINGS

WHAT EVERYONE NEEDS TO KNOW

A solid primer on the Arab Spring.

While stressing that it is “still too early to gain the distance from events that historians need to render judgments,” Gelvin (Middle Eastern History/UCLA; The Modern Middle East, 2004, etc.) offers insights into the popular uprisings that have swept Tunisia, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries since late 2010. His background on the Arab world will certainly help non-experts better understand the region. Most of the population consists of Arab-speaking Muslims. While lacking homogeneity, they share a sense of history; live in poor political, economic and social conditions; get news from a vastly expanded Arab-language media, such as the satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera; and generally oppose U.S. activities in the region, especially the invasion of Iraq and support for Israel. States, which control oil and other resources, are the main economic actors. During the Cold War, the U.S. supported strong, authoritarian regimes to hasten regional economic development and prevent the rise of communism. Using a Q&A format (the book is an installment in the publisher’s What Everyone Needs to Know series), Gelvin traces the various uprisings, beginning with Tunisia, noting that no one could have predicted the popular protests; that they had no single cause; and that the “true heroes of the uprisings” were the participants, who acted on their own and put their lives on the line. He writes it is not possible to pinpoint where the initial demands for democracy and human rights came from. “Certainly, the claim that the uprisings confirm the historical inevitability of democratic transformation worldwide reflects little more than wishful thinking,” he writes. Although Western media often called early protests a “Twitter Revolution,” social media only played a role. The region’s monarchs uniformly responded to the protests by distributing benefits (cash bonuses, jobs) and making promises for the future. It remains to be seen, writes Gelvin, whether the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt will mean the end of autocracy.

A useful attempt to understand a still-unfolding story.

Pub Date: March 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-19-989177-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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