Every major city should have such a guide to its past.




A vivid evocation of the Big Easy, whose nickname sidesteps three centuries of uneasy history.

Writer and documentary film producer Berry (Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church, 2012, etc.) opens with a juxtaposition of two important moments in the recent history of New Orleans: the 2015 funeral of musical legend Allen Toussaint, which “resembled an affair of state,” and the fiery debate over removing Confederate statues from the city’s public places. This “clash of icons” speaks to the significant question of what the city’s history really is: Is New Orleans a space where transformative works of art and music have been born or a place where some of the worst angels of our nature have been let loose? The answer, of course, is both. Borrowing the thought from novelist Walker Percy that the people of New Orleans are “happiest when making money, caring for the dead, or ‘putting on masks at Mardi Gras so nobody knows who they are,’ " Berry explores key moments in the clash of cultures and powers. Carved out of the scrubby Mississippi River lowlands as an entrepôt and anchor for France’s inland empire, New Orleans was, by its 10th year, “a black majority town with slave labor.” Indians were enslaved, too, even as the French concluded treaties with faraway Indian nations. The city was affected by both the Reign of Terror in Paris and the slave revolt in Saint-Domingue, both of which indirectly led to the acquisition of New Orleans as part of Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase—said the seller, a cash-strapped Napoleon Bonaparte, “I renounce it with the greatest regret….I require money.” Confederate center, strategically important port, birthplace of jazz, setting of tragedy and disaster, and now a site of gentrification: Berry nimbly covers New Orleans in all its aspects over 300 years, “a map of the world in miniature, a blue city floating against the odds of sea rise and climate convulsions, blue forever in its long sweet song.”

Every major city should have such a guide to its past.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4696-4714-2

Page Count: 424

Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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