There’s not much news here for those who follow the news, but it makes for a useful survey of an influential subculture.




Travels with Chaplain Charley into such heartlands as Grand Rapids, Mich., and Orange County, Calif., on the trail of homegrown fundamentalists.

At one time, fundamentalist Christians liked being called just that. But once the media started applying the term to Jews and Muslims, the more sensitive of the brethren demanded to be called “evangelists.” Evangelical America, notes U.S. News and World Report writer Sheler (Is the Bible True?, 1999), numbers at least 50 million inhabitants. Many of those folks share common notions: Gay is bad, gay marriage worse; Bush is good; churches branded and marketed like chain restaurants are much to be preferred to the tired old denominations; far from quietly rendering unto Caesar, fundamentalist Christians deserve a place at the political table. Comparative liberals like “America’s pastor,” Purpose-Driven Life author Rick Warren, eschews public-policy debates and gives most of his considerable income to social-service charities, but he’s the welcome exception here. More typical is Focus on the Family founder James Clayton Dobson, who opposes gay marriage because “if two women can say they’re entitled to the rights of married couples, there isn’t any reason why some judge won’t say three can do the same thing—or five and two, or six and one.” Gays are obsessed over by the fundamentalist cowboy churches of Colorado, which surprises Sheler, who may not have heard of Brokeback Mountain; they obsess fundamentalists all over America. Yet, interestingly, absent gay marriage and abortion, evangelicals would not be solidly Republican; after all, 55 percent of them voted for Bill Clinton against George H.W. Bush in 1992. As Sheler notes, evangelicals are “working with feminists on sex-trafficking legislation, with gay-rights activists on the Global AIDS Initiative, with Tibetan Buddhists on the International Religious Freedom Act . . . and so on.”

There’s not much news here for those who follow the news, but it makes for a useful survey of an influential subculture.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2006

ISBN: 0-670-03802-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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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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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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