Although Landscapes requires some observational flexibility to experience with a feeling of cohesion, these worldly essays...

LANDSCAPES

JOHN BERGER ON ART

Landscapes in the loosest, most metaphorical sense of the term, this illuminating compilation of essays by Berger (Portraits, 2015, etc.) aims to situate a range of art criticism into an accessible realm.

“People, many people, have lost all their political bearings,” writes the author in “Ten Dispatches about Place.” “Mapless, they do not know where they are heading.” In Berger’s latest collection, editor Overton compiles a selection of essays from the 1950s to today that function as maps to guide one’s way of thinking about a place, idea, or philosophy. Berger is a masterful observer, a trait that lends his writing a profound element of artistry: these essays, often economically executed in under eight pages, read like sketched studies of an as-yet-painted masterwork. In the 1987 essay “To Take Paper, to Draw,” Berger explains that drawing can function in three different ways: “There are those that study and question the visible; those that record and communicate ideas; and those done from memory.” These deft essays fall into this rubric as well. Centerpieces like the “The Moment of Cubism” and “Parade and the Beginning of Surrealism” study and question art as a mirror of society and propose instead “the model of the diagram”; these texts are indispensable for any student of art history and should be required reading in collegiate seminars. Alternatively, some essays lumber toward the philosophical and societal: texts on Max Raphael, Frederick Antal, and Berger’s own Marxism swirl, at times impenetrably, with revolutionary ideas. But it’s those essays “from memory,” like “Kraków” and “Stones (Palestine, June 2003),” which open and close the compilation, that exemplify Berger not only as a fine philosopher, but a traveler striving to record the aching, confounding beauty of the world around him.

Although Landscapes requires some observational flexibility to experience with a feeling of cohesion, these worldly essays are timeless, inspiring works of critical observation.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78478-584-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Verso

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 13

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more