Exasperating and thoughtful in equal portions.

MADE FROM SCRATCH

RECLAIMING THE PLEASURES OF THE AMERICAN HEARTH

A confused tribute to women’s traditional roles.

Nostalgic for a past she never experienced, Zimmerman (Raising Our Athletic Daughters, 1999, etc.) sets out to document the “dying art” of domestic science. The author’s grandmother, born in 1913, was “the last of the old-fashioned American homemakers,” she states; her mother rejected sewing and time-consuming cooking but was still a fairly typical 1950s housewife. Zimmerman herself initially disdained all things domestic, but now she proposes that women “take back” domesticity. Since women have entered the workforce in large numbers, she argues, the domestic arts have taken a nosedive—cooking especially, but also housecleaning and sewing. “The fact is that men never responded to feminists’ demand that they do half the household chores,” which means, in her view, that they remain women’s tasks. The author doesn’t examine class- or race-based perspectives on homemaking; her focus is entirely on white, middle-class women, though she never says so explicitly. Conflicts abound. Zimmerman laments the death of baked goods, yet serves her guests strawberry cake made with prepackaged cake mix and occasionally gives her daughter an Oscar Mayer lunch kit to take to school. She is “shocked” to see a woman at the grocery store buying pre-made cookie mix and frozen strudel, yet her own dinner fare includes taco dinner kits and boxed macaroni and cheese. Some of the chapters are sharply focused and provide detailed histories of domestic science. The author chronicles the rise of home economics as an academic discipline, noting that many women were able to springboard from home ec to the hard sciences and careers in teaching or manufacturing. A chapter on the evolution of processed food is also well researched and illuminating. It’s a shame, then, that Zimmerman overromanticizes homemaking as a “source of personal strength and dignity” to all women and lets melodrama overtake logic in declarations such as: “The loss of our homeways portends the death of the home itself.”

Exasperating and thoughtful in equal portions.

Pub Date: May 5, 2003

ISBN: 0-684-86959-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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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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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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