Tendentious history in service of a reform bound to go nowhere.




A Pulitzer Prize–winning historian claims that John Marshall got it spectacularly wrong: “It is emphatically the province and duty of the American people, not of the nine justices of the United States Supreme Court, to say what the Constitution is.”

The Supreme Court’s power and authority date from 1803’s Marbury v. Madison, which established it as the final arbiter of any conflict between the law and the Constitution. Burns (Leadership Scholar/Univ. of Maryland; Running Alone: Presidential Leadership from JFK to Bush II—Why It Has Failed and How We Can Fix It, 2006, etc.) departs from conventional wisdom and argues that Marbury’s enshrinement of the judiciary’s supremacy was actually an extra-Constitutional power grab by Chief Justice Marshall. Marbury immunized the court from checks and balances, made it unaccountable within our democracy and ensured deliberate efforts by the party in power to “pack” the court with its own partisans. In graceful prose, Burns takes us on a quick historical tour of many famous and infamous decisions, demonstrating how the court, frequently imagined as the protector of the weak and powerless, has more often been the friend of the powerful and a “a choke point for progressive reforms,” contemptuous of popular legislation. He comments on previous, unavailing efforts to curb the Court’s power—drives for impeachment, tinkering with the court’s numbers, popular votes on recall of decisions or of the Justices themselves, or fiddling with the rules, such as requiring a supermajority to strike down federal legislation. Astonishingly, Burns then proposes that President Obama, in an act of transformational leadership, announce his refusal to accept Supreme Court verdicts overruling vital legislation because the Constitution does not mention this power. Supporters of judicial supremacy, writes the author, should then be invited to amend the Constitution to explicitly provide for a power the court has never truly possessed. The author concedes the risk of this “open defiance of constitutional customs and the myths and mysteries that have long enshrouded the court…There might even be demands for impeachment.” No kidding.

Tendentious history in service of a reform bound to go nowhere.

Pub Date: June 29, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59420-219-3

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2009

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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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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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