Urgent, worthy reportage from our fractious, volatile social and cultural moment.

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TALES OF TWO AMERICAS

STORIES OF INEQUALITY IN A DIVIDED NATION

A penetrating multidisciplinary collection attacking today’s social fissures of privilege and inequality.

Former Granta editor Freeman (How to Read a Novelist, 2013, etc.), founder of the eponymous literary biannual, expands on a previous anthology regarding New York City’s inequality with this follow-up. “This is not just an urban problem,” he writes. “In smaller cities and towns and in rural America the gulf between the haves and have-nots stretches just as wide, even if its symptoms are not so visible.” While these parameters seem broad, Freeman’s mandate is fulfilled by the uniformly high quality of the contributors. Most address the topic obliquely, avoiding bombast in favor of grounded social narrative or the perspective offered by formative experience. Rebecca Solnit begins with a meticulous journalistic look at “Death by Gentrification,” in which a flashpoint of police violence in San Francisco revealed corrosive changes within trendy neighborhoods. In “Trash Food,” Chris Offutt connects his unease with intellectual condescension toward impoverished rural people with his own conflicts about identity: “As [Southern] cuisines gained popularity, the food itself became culturally upgraded.” Novelist Richard Russo addresses current politics more directly, noting that literature used to reflect engagement with a working class that now appears dismissed. “One can be sympathetic to Trump voters,” he writes, “without giving them a free pass.” Some pieces are directly autobiographical—e.g., Sandra Cisneros’ “Notes of a Native Daughter,” in which she writes, “Chicago’s Magnificent Mile made others feel magnificent but only made me ashamed of my shoes.” Others use the working writer’s unique situation as a lens for particular subtopics: Karen Russell’s long, affecting “Looking for a Home” portrays house-shopping in Portland during a homelessness epidemic as a moral challenge. Eula Biss’ powerful “White Debt” deftly wields financial metaphors. The anthology is rounded out with fiction and poetry from Joyce Carol Oates, Edwidge Danticat, Joy Williams, Kevin Young, Ann Patchett, Annie Dillard, Roxane Gay, Timothy Egan, and others.

Urgent, worthy reportage from our fractious, volatile social and cultural moment.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-14-313103-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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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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