A worthy uncovering of a miscarriage of justice, but not the skewering of the law in toto that it purports to be.



In The Journalist and the Murderer (1990), longtime New Yorker writer Malcolm tried to establish that journalists are unreliable. In her newest investigation, she tries to establish that lawyers are similarly unreliable.

With one exception—her heroine, Sheila McGough. “Part of the same guild of hobbled narrators” as journalists, lawyers at trial seek not to tell the truth, which is messy and shapeless, but rather to offer a “purposive storytelling” that is streamlined and easily swallowed. It is through just such a narrative, Malcolm contends, that Sheila McGough, herself a criminal defense attorney, was wrongly convicted of colluding with one of her clients to cheat a third party out of $75,000. Malcolm’s hectoring on the subject of truth is irritating, and it is also beside the point. More significantly, she does a brilliant job of uncovering the tiny inconsistencies in the record that reveal McGough’s innocence. McGough herself, as portrayed by Malcolm, is a quixotic innocent who persists in believing that she was framed by her prosecutors rather than by her client, Bob Bailes, an often-convicted con man of not inconsiderable gifts in his chosen profession. It is McGough’s unflagging loyalty to her client’she declines even to testify in her own behalf, lest she betray Bailes’s interests—her insistence on believing, for instance, that it was a series of four car wrecks that addled Bailes’s brain and led to his apparent deceptions, that lead the usually irascible Malcolm to label McGough "an exquisite heroine." Unfortunately for Malcolm’s account, McGough in all her devotion fails to fascinate. It is the elusive and now-deceased Bailes who is the most captivating character in her tale. With his charisma, his "con artist’s mesmerizing self-confidence," he was able to charm not only McGough but even one of his prosecutors, who could say no worse of him than that "he was a character."

A worthy uncovering of a miscarriage of justice, but not the skewering of the law in toto that it purports to be.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-375-40508-9

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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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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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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