A necrobibliac classic (in the tradition of Nancy Mitford’s American Way of Death): it may keep you up all night—not from...

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BURIED ALIVE

THE TERRIFYING HISTORY OF OUR MOST PRIMAL FEAR

Grave matters are treated with wit and erudition in this study of premature burial throughout Western history, from physician Bondeson (The London Monster, 2000, etc.).

When one 18th-century French proponent for burial reform wrote that “Death is certain, since it is inevitable, but also uncertain, since its diagnosis is sometimes fallible,” he was living in a time when feather quill tickling, urine mouthwashing, and tobacco smoke enemas were all advocated as instruments in the precise diagnosis and certification of death. Bondeson’s macabre study begins in European antiquity and moves swiftly through the medieval superstitions and Renaissance legends. The bulk of the text deals with the period from 1750–1900 in Europe and America, years that correspond with the development of Western medicine as we know it. The author, a doctor himself, exhumes some fascinating material—from the history of the German Leichenhauser (waiting mortuaries—where bells were tied to the fingers of corpses should they bestir and shake themselves back to life) to the literary and philosophical overtones of the French debate on accuracy in death certification. Quacks, eccentrics, and charlatans run as rampant as earnest medical reformers throughout Bondeson’s account, while the forces of ambition and greed are as constant as those of fear and humanitarianism. He follows the history of premature interment up to the present day (yes, Virginia, cases of premature burial still occur), and one digressive chapter deals with the depiction of premature burial in art (particularly books and movies) from Edgar Allan Poe to Roger Corman. The impressive medical history uncovered by the author’s thoroughgoing research is well-presented and somewhat better than his argument (which falls somewhat by the wayside) that the fear of premature burial was ever as widespread as he suggests.

A necrobibliac classic (in the tradition of Nancy Mitford’s American Way of Death): it may keep you up all night—not from fear but from fascination.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-393-04906-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2001

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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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