A frank, well-written look at the dangers we face. We ignore them at our peril.




Following her impressive one-volume history of the United States, These Truths (2018), the acclaimed historian delivers a sharp, short history of nationalism, which she describes as “a contrivance, an artifice, a fiction.”

As New Yorker staff writer Lepore (American History/Harvard Univ.) notes, the term wasn’t even used until the 19th century. In 1830s America, it was called sectionalism, and its adherents included those who favored slavery and native tribes who didn’t recognize the government. By the 1880s, nationalism was fed by Jim Crow laws, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Dawes Act, and the Supreme Court ruling that Native Americans had no birthright to citizenship. The author clearly shows that, while patriotism is characterized by love of your home and people, nationalism features hatred of other countries and immigrants as well as those who are different at home. “Immigration policy is a topic for political debate; reasonable people disagree,” writes Lepore. “But hating immigrants, as if they were lesser humans, is a form of nationalism that has nothing to do with patriotism and much to do with racism.” Furthermore, she writes, “confusing nationalism and patriotism is not always innocent.” The author also takes her fellow historians to task for missing the resurgence of nationalism following World War II. Though there was a comparatively brief lull in the 1930s, with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the nation fell apart. Churches were bombed, civil rights leaders were harassed and even killed, and the Ku Klux Klan reappeared. Hopes rose with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Immigration Act, and the Voting Rights Act, and in the 1980s, nationalism in the U.S. was all but dead. However, it continued to thrive in Bosnia and Rwanda and has carried over to Russia, Turkey, Poland, Hungary, and the Philippines. Lepore writes that while global trade, immigration reform, and the internet were supposed to end divisions, nationalism has surged; now we have politics of identity rather than nationality.

A frank, well-written look at the dangers we face. We ignore them at our peril.

Pub Date: May 28, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63149-641-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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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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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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