Easily digestible political history and, Cohen’s protestations aside, interesting reading for those contemplating the...

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ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENTS

EIGHT MEN WHO CHANGED AMERICA

An examination of the problems of presidential succession in American history, which in numerous cases has been anything but orderly.

William Henry Harrison lasted only a month as president before succumbing to pneumonia in 1841, thrusting his vice president, John Tyler, into office. Therewith a chain of events was set in motion that would splinter the Whigs and turn a powerful potential ally, Henry Clay, into a foe: “While Clay sought reconciliation from Harrison,” writes Cohen (Children of Jihad: A Young American's Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East, 2007, etc.), “he was prepared to wage war with Tyler.” It wouldn’t be the first time the elevation of a vice president to chief office would rupture old relations, as the author documents. A more modern case was the arrival of Lyndon Johnson to the Oval Office after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The Texan had been building the power he lost when leaving his post as Senate majority leader, for as second-in-command, he “lacked any real constituency inside the administration.” Other vice presidents brought into office following the demise or departure of the president were less effective, and certainly less showy: Calvin Coolidge earned the moniker “Silent Cal,” but he effectively calmed the turbulent scene surrounding the administration of his predecessor, Warren G. Harding (around whose death, Cohen hints, a cozy conspiracy theory might be built). The book is light on theory and long on anecdote, but it makes for pleasant reading for politics junkies, especially those keen on reading the political winds. Though his book is timely, the author insists that it is incorrect “to look at the timing of this book and assume it was inspired by all the impeachment talk surrounding Donald Trump.”

Easily digestible political history and, Cohen’s protestations aside, interesting reading for those contemplating the prospect of a President Mike Pence—or President Nancy Pelosi.

Pub Date: April 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-0982-9

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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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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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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