A mixed-bag collection that finds the United States at a crossroads.

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OUR AMERICAN STORY

THE SEARCH FOR A SHARED NATIONAL NARRATIVE

Edited by attorney Claybourn, this collection addresses the possibility of a shared narrative within a country divided by political polarization.

“Even if searching for a common narrative risks neglecting some current or future group,” writes the editor, “we…still recognize the value of exploring whether a unifying story can be achieved and, if so, what that story might be.” The responses are all over the map, provocatively so, with some contributors stressing how this lack of a shared story and thus a shared identity has been integral to the story of America from the start. Each state had its own story, and the country prized the sovereignty of those states over any sort of federal unity. “When Thomas Jefferson talked about ‘my country,’ he meant Virginia,” writes history professor Gordon S. Wood, who proceeds to elaborate, “people were citizens of a particular state, which is what made them citizens of the United States.” That these citizens had formerly been subjects under British rule is essential to the origin story, but some citizens have long been more equal than others, and many who lived here weren’t citizens at all. So the story must encompass the plights of slaves and their descendants, the fight for equality that remains in flux. There are many mentions of “American exceptionalism,” a term that the concluding essay by Paris-based historian Cody Delistraty notes was first used by Joseph Stalin in 1929 and has since provided something of a battlefield for sparring ideologues. Yet America remains exceptional as a country founded upon an ideal, one that could well provide a unifying spirit despite the country’s deep divisions. As Cherie Harder, who served as an assistant to both George W. and Laura Bush, writes, we must “teach and learn our story.” But what story do we teach? What story do we learn? And what story do we tell? Other notable contributors include Cass Sunstein, Alan Taylor, and David Blight.

A mixed-bag collection that finds the United States at a crossroads.

Pub Date: June 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64012-170-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Potomac Books

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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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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