A thoughtful but sometimes overly academic consideration of why thousands of people are, or should be, marching in the...

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DEEP VIOLENCE

MILITARY VIOLENCE, WAR PLAY, AND THE SOCIAL LIFE OF WEAPONS

A dense treatise on the evil that men do to one another in the name of war.

Although she is certainly an idealistic thinker, Bourke (History/Birkbeck Coll., Univ. of London; The Story of Pain, 2014, etc.) gets to some dark places. Her output has included scholarly examinations of murder, fear, rape and pain. Here, she turns her unflinching gaze on the militarization of society. The book was originally titled Wounding the World, which is in some ways more accurate since it is as much about the mindsets of victims as it is about those who fight. Bourke examines the nature of military violence through a variety of lenses, including economics, language, law, big business and the very nature of our humanity. After a clear introduction, she examines the language we use to describe warfare, and this may be one of the most complex sections for a general audience. “These four ways of talking about violence—aestheticizing it, converting it into an abstract formula, ignoring pertinent aspects and giving weapons agency—overlap….But converting violence against others into something attractive, abstract or absent makes it easier to bear,” writes the author. The next section examines the psychology of violence, both on the parts of the (mostly) men who perpetrate it, from the drone pilot in Nevada who feels “like God hurling thunderbolts from afar,” to those wounded inside and out. In a somewhat dated section, Bourke examines the “fetishization of authenticity” in games and other media, essentially positing portrayals of military violence as pornography; refreshingly, however, she rarely blames the creators, instead focusing on motive and audience. The most challenging section may be the summary, which posits that protests and other societal interventions could bring an end to war, a proposal some readers may find too modest to be realistic.

A thoughtful but sometimes overly academic consideration of why thousands of people are, or should be, marching in the streets.

Pub Date: March 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61902-463-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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