An illuminating book that both introduces and critiques an often overlooked art form.

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WHAT BOARD GAMES TEACH US ABOUT LIFE

A nonfiction work explores society and culture through the lens of tabletop games.

Board games have undergone a resurgence in recent years—perhaps partly, debut author Moriarity argues, as a rejection of the ubiquity of digital entertainment—but they have been with us for centuries. They often replicate some aspect of real life: war, wealth accumulation, resource management. In this way, they provide an intriguing mirror of the society in which they are created. “This is not a book of strategy tips or game reviews,” writes Moriarity at the beginning of this volume. “It is about the things games can teach us about ourselves. Each chapter focuses on one or two game titles…and draws out a revealed lesson in history, psychology, philosophy, society or culture.” Moriarity, a gamer-turned-writer, and Kay (Among the Truthers, 2017, etc.), a writer-turned-gamer, take turns, chapter by chapter, pulling at those threads that they find most interesting. Kay uses Settlers of Catan—the first European title to become highly popular in the United States—to examine how European board games in the postwar years tended to focus on peaceful, creative themes in contrast to the conflict- and competition-driven American ones like Risk. Moriarity reveals how The Game of Life—the 1960 reimagining of Milton Bradley’s original 1860 game The Checkered Game of Life—dispensed with its predecessor’s concept of moral choice and replaced it with a deterministic quest to gain material wealth. In addition to providing a window into society, games offer players an opportunity to learn (sometimes unwittingly) about other segments of society. Kay discovers how two games—Greenland and 1812: The Invasion of Canada—made him think about and even identify with different cultures. Moriarity (in a chapter called “Horrible People”) confronts her prejudices about the sort of people who love Cards Against Humanity. Kay and Moriarity are both skilled writers and elucidators, and their voices are distinct enough to provide the book with a pleasing yin and yang. Their dueling chapters on Monopoly skillfully illustrate their various interests. Kay comments on how the game’s poor-get-poorer, rich-get-richer mechanic is “characteristic of a certain dynamic observed in nature, engineering, and human relationships, one that mathematicians sometimes describe as unstable equilibrium.” Moriarity, meanwhile, focuses on the psychological benefits—and worsened gameplay—of the popular but noncanonical Stupid Free Parking Rule: “I am using the word ‘rule’ in the loosest possible sense because there is, in fact, no such rule—which is a big part of the problem.” The authors include a mix of classic titles that most readers will know (Scattergories, Scrabble, Dungeons & Dragons), with more-complex offerings from the tabletop world (Pandemic, Dead of Winter, Legend of the Five Rings). It’s a far more perceptive and intriguing book than it appears at first blush, particularly for those readers who have never thought of games as an artistic medium—at least not one that comments on society. Regular gamers will enjoy these takes on familiar titles. And readers just discovering the tabletop renaissance will likely want to play some of these games themselves.

An illuminating book that both introduces and critiques an often overlooked art form.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-9994395-4-5

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Sutherland House

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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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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