Readers low and high will find this a winning companion, with excellent sources.

THE ESSENCE OF STYLE

HOW THE FRENCH INVENTED HIGH FASHION, FINE FOOD, CHIC CAFÉS, STYLE, SOPHISTICATION, AND GLAMOUR

An obsequiously titled but ultimately compelling study of the legacy of Louis XIV’s reign.

Once past the gloppy generalizations that try needlessly to snare the interest of nonscholars by dropping insipid anachronisms like “ladies who lunched” and “interior decoration’s ultimate bling-bling,” DeJean (French/Univ. of Pennsylvania) provides an intelligent, well-documented history of the luxury items taken for granted today that have also defined the culture of France. Essentially, the long, glorious rule of the Sun King, from 1660 to 1715, “unleashed desires that now seem fundamental” and inaugurated a program for redefining France as the land of luxury and glamour, often through a ruthless cornering of the market. As Louis’s obsession with style created the desire for fantastically luxurious goods, such as shoes, hosiery, diamonds and mirrors, his wily protectionist prime minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, worked with the business elite to ensure that France would become a mercantile superpower. The profession of the coiffeur, for example, seems to have been single-handedly invented by le sieur Champagne, whose unique touch with aristocratic hairdos instigated the first “brand recognition.” DeJean examines the important tool of the “fashion plates,” literally engravings, that served to advertise the luxurious new goods to the public, while Donneau de Vise’s newspaper, Le Mercure galant, became the first fashion organ aimed at provincial women dreaming of becoming as chic as the great ladies of Versailles. La Varenne brought butter and vegetables into the kitchen; cafes sprang up to serve the new coffee beverage and provide people with somewhere to go in a city newly lighted by state-of-the-art lanterns; and champagne, thanks to the tireless trial-and-error of the cellar master of Hautvillers, Dom Perignon, exploded on the scene. DeJean does a superb job of rendering comprehensible the new technology of mirror-making, while she relegates to a footnote, unfortunately, the ascendancy during this period of the classical French language.

Readers low and high will find this a winning companion, with excellent sources.

Pub Date: July 14, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-6413-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2005

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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