A knowledgeable study of Washington’s extensive “bag of tricks” to secure victory.

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GEORGE WASHINGTON'S SECRET SPY WAR

THE MAKING OF AMERICA'S FIRST SPYMASTER

One intriguing, little-known facet of the first general of the Continental Army: his wholehearted embrace of the art of deception against the British.

A cryptology specialist of the Colonial period, Nagy (Dr. Benjamin Church, Spy: A Case of Espionage on the Eve of the American Revolution, 2013, etc.), who died this year, found that the Founding Father famed for his inability to tell a lie actually embarked on wartime espionage “with childlike glee.” Working with a ragtag army that was no match for the professionalism of the enemy, Washington used espionage to “level the playing field and then exploit it to the best advantage possible.” He honed these skills as a young lieutenant colonel working for Gen. Edward Braddock in the war against the French, rebuffing French raiding parties and making allies with the Indians. As war against Britain became inevitable by 1775, Washington, now the Virginia “gentleman farmer” chosen by the Continental Congress to “lead the mob of Massachusetts malcontents surrounding Boston,” needed spies to infiltrate British ranks in Boston so he could be prepared for their attacks. One of his methods was to use the observances of local fisherman. Uncovering spies for the British presented another problem—e.g., the revelation of Massachusetts revolutionary leader Dr. Benjamin Church Jr.’s traitorous cipher; he had apparently been playing both sides. On the other hand, an important seeker of intelligence on British positions in New York, young Nathan Hale was caught and hanged by the British as a spy. Washington fed false information to British spies, prepared a standardized set of questions to root out real spies, used misdirection in attacking the British, and promoted the ingenious fabrication of invisible ink. Over several chapters, Nagy effectively lays out Washington’s “Deception Battle Plan”—i.e., obscuring where exactly he would attack New York City in 1781, a plan similarly executed so many years later in Operation Overlord (1944) and in Operation Desert Storm (1990-1991).

A knowledgeable study of Washington’s extensive “bag of tricks” to secure victory.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-250-09681-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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