A significant work, though an abridgement could help spread the word.

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF DEMOCRACY

A distinguished political scientist takes a broad view of democracy, speculating on both the lineage and the prospects of a cherished doctrine.

In the realm of the ideal, writes Keane (Politics/Univ. of Westminster; Violence and Democracy, 2004, etc.), democracy “was to be the government of the humble, by the humble, for the humble.” It was meant to remove power from the hands of the elite few fortunate enough, by accident of birth or property, to direct the lives of those less fortunate. Ideals, of course, do not often conform to reality, and in this long—indeed, a touch too long, making Karl Popper’s 800-page magnum opus The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) seem slender by comparison—treatise, Keane considers all the ways in which democracies have gone awry over the course of history. The author distinguishes numerous types of democracies, assembly and representative and, now, monitory—those born of movements to correct the ruling class on particular issues, such as civil rights for ethnic minorities. Provocatively, Keane extends the history of democracy beyond the walls of Athens, where, Western legend has it the idea of rule by the demos, the people writ large, was born. The author locates democratic ideas in ancient Syria and Mesopotamia, as well as Mycenae and other Mediterranean locales. Contradictions abound in those ideas: Can a slaveholding state such as Athens be democratic? Can Sparta, with impressed military service? Must a state be democratic to be prosperous? Keane’s explorations should occasion some rethinking—on, for instance, the history of India, which shows the possibilities of multiethnic democracies, and of Islam, which has a neglected democratic tradition. The author also isolates desiderata for fulfilling “the humbling ideal of democracy,” among them access to education, health care and livelihood—the sorts of things that champions of free-market democracy minimize as somehow socialistic.

A significant work, though an abridgement could help spread the word.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-3930-5835-2

Page Count: 1024

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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