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

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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

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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