Vintage Diamond; of a piece with Collapse (2004) and likely to appeal to the same broad audience.




The MacArthur fellow and Pulitzer Prize winner looks at how societies respond to crises.

A crisis is a turning point, a time when decision and action are necessary. As Diamond (Geography/UCLA; The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?, 2012, etc.) puts it, it is a “moment of truth” that calls on us to cope. We do so as individuals following such adaptations as we are able to draw on, including recognizing that there’s a problem, being honest in appraising where the fault lies and what can be done, and then drawing on flexibility and intelligence to work things out. So it is with societies. Diamond astutely examines seven turning points in the history of the world, some of them little known—e.g., the Winter War between Russian and Finland, which briefly pushed Finland into the Nazi camp and involved a humiliating defeat first for the Soviets and then for the Finns. Nations “do or don’t undertake honest self-appraisal,” writes the author: The Russians scarcely acknowledge a war that remains strong in Finnish history, just as Germany, the epicenter of Nazism, at first tried to brush aside that history and then became the first among nations in acknowledging guilt and making sure such crimes would not be repeated. For its part, Japan has not adequately owned up to the historical chain that made it into a modern nation and then a brutal imperial power, while the United States has yet to reckon with the crisis of slavery, racial enmity, and civil war. Diamond seeks commonalities and distinctions. In his case studies, only Indonesia lacks a strong sense of national identity, which is explainable given its rather recent emergence as a nation and which helps explain its reluctance to work through a traumatic civil war in which millions may have died. Just so, honest self-appraisal is sometimes hard to come by, as when modern Americans shun scientific reasoning, “a very bad portent, because science is basically just the accurate description and understanding of the real world.”

Vintage Diamond; of a piece with Collapse (2004) and likely to appeal to the same broad audience.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-40913-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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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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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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