Lean, harsh and lowdown, this bruising history leaves a mark.



The gripping history of a largely forgotten legend of wrestling.

Washington Post managing editor Leen (co-author: Kings of Cocaine: Inside the Medellin Cartel, 1989) illuminates the murky history of women’s professional wrestling with this sympathetic biography of Mildred Burke, the sport’s greatest champion. Burke (née Bliss) grew up in poverty and seemed resigned to a life in the margins, waitressing in a dingy café during the depths of the Depression—until her husband took her to a wrestling match. Something about the primal nature of the contest touched a chord in the unhappy young woman, and Burke wholly dedicated herself to a professional grappling. Her career began in earnest when she tried out for Billy Wolfe, a former wrestler who had begun to gather and train young women in the sport. Wolfe quickly realized her potential—she was lithe, strong, gifted with an innate sense of balance and fiercely determined—and she began to win matches, defeating some 200 men before establishing herself as the nation’s premier woman wrestler, holding the world championship for nearly 20 years. Wolfe is both the book’s villain and most compelling character, a cigar-chomping, diamond-flashing huckster whose genius for promotion and utter ruthlessness paid off in spectacular success. He was also an abusive womanizer, blithely cheating on Burke—whom he had married, presumably to better control her fortunes—with the young women in his charge, who understood that sex with him was the only route to success in their field. Burke remains a bit of a cipher, a mulish survivor abused by Wolfe for years before he effectively destroyed her career, abetted by the sexist mentality of the wrestling establishment. Equally tragic, and not a bit tawdry, was Burke’s long-term affair with Wolfe’s son, who would ultimately take part in her fall. Burke enjoyed a twilight resurgence when touring lady wrestlers proved popular in Japan, but the impression Leen provides is of a broken, badly used woman who ironically stands as a symbol of feminine strength and a groundbreaking figure in the history of women’s athletics.

Lean, harsh and lowdown, this bruising history leaves a mark.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1882-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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