A “chronicle of oppression” that makes a rousing counter to the usual celebratory narratives of the American past.

AMERICAN RULE

HOW A NATION CONQUERED THE WORLD BUT FAILED ITS PEOPLE

A contrarian history of the U.S. dismissing notions of exceptionalism and triumphalism.

Sexton, author of the rousing political chronicle The People Are Going To Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore (2017), turns to the same problem that inspired his first book: the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the White House. “I could explain Trump’s victory politically, demographically, and socially,” he writes, “but historically, I was at a loss.” His explorations of the American past provide him milestones. The framing of the Declaration of Independence and, later, of the Constitution is an important one: Congress’ rejection of Thomas Jefferson’s language that considered enslaved people to enjoy the same inalienable rights as their owners did not sit well with representatives of the Southern Colonies, and the Federalist Papers helped introduce a system that traded an overthrown king for a new class of aristocrats. “Exiting the British Empire,” writes Sexton, “meant a new sovereignty, but it wouldn’t mean an entirely new society, as past hierarchies predicated on race and wealth remained firmly in place.” As the narrative progresses, the author delivers ample evidence to support that thesis: The Whiskey Rebellion was not about illegally distilling, per se, but rather about taxation and the power of the federal government (and that government alone) to issue money; Woodrow Wilson’s conception of a “league of nations” was built on “the Noble Lie of democracy” in conjunction with “the social control of a hidden aristocracy.” Today, that aristocracy is gladly served by the dispossessed middle class, betrayed by a leadership that is nominally both pious and racist, having been reduced for the sake of sheer numbers to forging alliances with the nationalists who would just as soon destroy democracy as guard it. And let’s not forget that “the Electoral College, engineered by the Founders to advantage slaveholding states against fears of majority rule in the eighteenth century, gave Trump the election.”

A “chronicle of oppression” that makes a rousing counter to the usual celebratory narratives of the American past.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4571-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

THE COMFORT BOOK

Bestselling author Haig offers a book’s worth of apothegms to serve as guides to issues ranging from disquietude to self-acceptance.

Like many collections of this sort—terse snippets of advice, from the everyday to the cosmic—some parts will hit home with surprising insight, some will feel like old hat, and others will come across as disposable or incomprehensible. Years ago, Haig experienced an extended period of suicidal depression, so he comes at many of these topics—pain, hope, self-worth, contentment—from a hard-won perspective. This makes some of the material worthy of a second look, even when it feels runic or contrary to experience. The author’s words are instigations, hopeful first steps toward illumination. Most chapters are only a few sentences long, the longest running for three pages. Much is left unsaid and left up to readers to dissect. On being lost, Haig recounts an episode with his father when they got turned around in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was correct, a bit of wisdom Haig turned to during his depression when he focused on moving forward: “It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.” Many aphorisms sound right, if hardly groundbreaking—e.g., a quick route to happiness is making someone else happy; “No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having space you need to live”; “External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our mind.” Haig’s fans may enjoy this one, but others should take a pass.

A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313666-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Life

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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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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