McKee’s wonderfully rich and thought-provoking text, told with style and winning flashes of humor, is a refreshing entry...

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THE RIDDLED CHAIN

CHANCE, COINCIDENCE AND CHAOS IN HUMAN EVOLUTION

Add “culture” to the alliterative subtitle and “clever” to describe the approach of the author, for this is indeed an intelligent and provocative account of human evolution.

McKee (Anthropology/Ohio State) is a theorist as well as a field paleoanthropologist. He has worked on digs at the storied sites in South Africa (Magapansgat and Taung) where Raymond Dart discovered a famous fossil of a child hominid, not an ape, estimated to be about 2.5 million years old. The structure of the skull provided McKee with a starting-point for his thesis: there is chaos in the world, he claims, because a change in some initial circumstance in our evolutionary history—one that occurred by chance (gene mutation)—has had epoch-making and unpredictable repercussions. The Taung child was a small-brained, large-faced biped. In the process of adapting to standing and walking, McKee speculates, the spinal cord attached to the brain moved centrally so that the head would eventually sit squarely over the spinal column and face forward. These genetic and morphological events, along with evidence from other fossil finds and computer simulations, led McKee to conclude that evolution is self-catalytic (i.e., self-driven). It is the product of change, coincidence, and chaos, climaxing in human evolution with culture, that has increased our adaptability. McKee discredits the popular theory that a climatic cooling led to a loss of forest and the growth of savannahs, thereby driving our ancestors to bipedalism. He also includes a wonderful chapter cataloguing the compromises in anatomy and physiology our species lives with, and he speculates that we are preserving maladaptive traits because of our medical ingenuity.

McKee’s wonderfully rich and thought-provoking text, told with style and winning flashes of humor, is a refreshing entry into the always contentious and endlessly fascinating story of human origins.

Pub Date: July 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8135-2783-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Rutgers Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2000

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Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

THREE WOMEN

Based on eight years of reporting and thousands of hours of interaction, a journalist chronicles the inner worlds of three women’s erotic desires.

In her dramatic debut about “what longing in America looks like,” Taddeo, who has contributed to Esquire, Elle, and other publications, follows the sex lives of three American women. On the surface, each woman’s story could be a soap opera. There’s Maggie, a teenager engaged in a secret relationship with her high school teacher; Lina, a housewife consumed by a torrid affair with an old flame; and Sloane, a wealthy restaurateur encouraged by her husband to sleep with other people while he watches. Instead of sensationalizing, the author illuminates Maggie’s, Lina’s, and Sloane’s erotic experiences in the context of their human complexities and personal histories, revealing deeper wounds and emotional yearnings. Lina’s infidelity was driven by a decade of her husband’s romantic and sexual refusal despite marriage counseling and Lina's pleading. Sloane’s Fifty Shades of Grey–like lifestyle seems far less exotic when readers learn that she has felt pressured to perform for her husband's pleasure. Taddeo’s coverage is at its most nuanced when she chronicles Maggie’s decision to go to the authorities a few years after her traumatic tryst. Recounting the subsequent trial against Maggie’s abuser, the author honors the triumph of Maggie’s courageous vulnerability as well as the devastating ramifications of her community’s disbelief. Unfortunately, this book on “female desire” conspicuously omits any meaningful discussion of social identities beyond gender and class; only in the epilogue does Taddeo mention race and its impacts on women's experiences with sex and longing. Such oversight brings a palpable white gaze to the narrative. Compounded by the author’s occasionally lackluster prose, the book’s flaws compete with its meaningful contribution to #MeToo–era reporting.

Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4229-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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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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