A welcome makeover for the textbook view of New York—and American—cultural history.

QUEER STREET

THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN CULTURE, 1947-1985

A brilliant account of the evolution of modern gay culture in post-WWII New York.

Not that such things can be pinpointed with any precision. “Queer Street,” as McCourt (Wayfaring at Waverly in Silver Lake, 2002, etc.) calls it, is really a state of mind: “It doesn’t start anywhere; there isn’t a beginning.” Yet a story has to begin somewhere, and McCourt locates his at about the time that armies of war-weary, liberated combat veterans returned home and decided to live on their own terms. Beyond Manhattan, the rest of the country wasn’t quite ready for the gay veterans “and their undecorated coevals,” McCourt adds: “Viewed by the world of straight America (primed to rescind the liberty and license vouchsafed queers under grueling combat conditions), [Queer Street] becomes the radical inverse of the renewed moral and civic duty prescribed in the triumphalist Republic.” If that snippet has your head spinning, it is typical of McCourt’s exuberant, elliptical style, which sometimes begs a Derrida to serve as translator. Blending personal and cultural history, McCourt takes a leisurely stroll along that long avenue, examining attitudes pro and con vis-à-vis the gay demimonde in a narrative that touches, dizzyingly, on the French martyr Simone Weil, Counter-Reformation Jesuitism, J. Edgar Hoover, Kaye Ballard, Broadway (when, in the 1950s, the “sensitive boy” à la Anthony Perkins, Roddy MacDowell, and Dean Stockwell emerged as an ideal), Method acting, Fire Island, Friedrich Nietzsche, Stonewall, and Bette Davis. This is magpie history, highly selective and full of shiny objects, but it is remarkably coherent for all its strange turns; McCourt’s notes on camp (which locates “the success in certain passionate failures”) are worth the price of admission alone. So is McCourt’s sharp reminder that not the larger culture, not recruitment, not seminary “makes any boy gay . . . the job is done by the parents in the first two to four years of life, the end.”

A welcome makeover for the textbook view of New York—and American—cultural history.

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2003

ISBN: 0-393-05051-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2003

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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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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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