Instructive and provocative without the dour preachiness of so many eco-activist books.

PLANET PALM

HOW PALM OIL ENDED UP IN EVERYTHING―AND ENDANGERED THE WORLD

A wide-angle study of the global scourge of palm oil production.

In the last decade, palm oil, once just an innocuous ingredient in dishwashing liquid, has become an increasingly ubiquitous global commodity, finding its way into everything from bread and chocolate to makeup and margarine. After years of globe-trotting reportage on the environmental and health hazards of this deceptively sinister substance, journalist Zuckerman—former deputy editor of Gourmet, articles editor of OnEarth, and executive editor of Modern Farmer—offers this definitive, damning account of the history of palm oil production and the ecological destruction it causes. “Following the plant’s journey over the decades,” she writes, “has served as a sort of master class in everything from colonialism and commodity fetishism to globalization and the industrialization of our modern food system.” The first half of the book covers the trade’s colonial beginnings, with “men of empire” like British imperialists George Goldie and William Lever marching arrogantly into Africa in the 19th century and monopolizing the palm oil business. Both exploited African labor while pushing the Indigenous trade out of their own markets. The second half of the book is where the prescient core of Zuckerman’s exposé lies, as she recounts a disturbing litany of contemporary ills associated with the palm oil trade. The author is unsparing in her revelations, from the ecological damage to the adverse health effects of palm oil and its use in cheap, high-calorie foods. “It’s common to blame sugar for the world’s weight problems, but in the last half-century, refined vegetable oils have added far more calories to the global diet than has any other food group,” she writes. But the book is not entirely grim: Zuckerman offers practical suggestions for proactively weaning ourselves off of palm oil—e.g., using synthetic versions of the oil and convincing companies to adopt no-deforestation policies in their production codes.

Instructive and provocative without the dour preachiness of so many eco-activist books.

Pub Date: May 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-62097-523-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A lively and thoughtful memoir that, one hopes, will inspire readers to pursue activism in every realm of society.

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PERSIST

The Massachusetts senator and financial reformer recounts several of her good fights over the years.

Famous for being chided for “persisting” on the Senate floor, Warren is nearly a byword for the application of an unbending, if usually polite, feminism to the corridors of power. Though she has a schoolmarm-ish air—and indeed taught school for much of her life—she gladly owns up to liking a beer or two and enjoying a good brawl, and she’s a scrapper with a long memory. In 2008, when she shopped a proposal to found a federal agency that “could act as a watchdog to make sure that consumers weren’t getting cheated by financial institutions,” she encountered a congressman who “laughed in my face.” She doesn’t reveal his name, but you can bet he crosses the hall when she’s coming the other way. Warren does name other names, especially Donald Trump, who, with Republicans on the Hill, accomplished only one thing, namely “a $2 trillion tax cut that mostly benefited rich people.” Now that the Democrats are in power, the author reckons that the time is ripe to shake off the Trump debacle and build “a nation that works, not just for the rich and powerful but for everyone.” She identifies numerous areas that need immediate attention, from financial reform to bringing more women into the workplace and mandating equal pay for equal work. Warren premises some of these changes on increased taxes on the rich, happily citing a billionaire well known for insider trading, who complained of her, “This is the fucking American dream she is shitting on.” The author reverts to form: “Oh dear. Did I hit a nerve?” Warren’s common-sensical proposals on housing, infrastructure development, and civil rights merit attention, and her book makes for a sometimes-funny, sometimes–sharp-tongued pleasure.

A lively and thoughtful memoir that, one hopes, will inspire readers to pursue activism in every realm of society.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-79924-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: today

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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