International-policy wonks will find much of interest, and Francis Fukuyama might want to consider updating his good book in...




Think democracy’s the up-and-coming thing in the developing world? This book may shatter more than few illusions of free markets and polities.

Council on Foreign Relations fellow Kurlantzick (The Ideal Man: The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War, 2011, etc.) recommends a second look at places like Russia, China and Mexico, where democracy seems to be in rapid decline. The neoliberal line for the last quarter-century has in the main been that of Francis Fukuyama, whose influential book The End of History and the Last Man (1992) posited that the West’s triumph over communism meant “that liberal democracy, combined with market economics, represented the direction in which the world would inevitably evolve.” Indeed, authoritarian regimes such as Thailand—a favorite Kurlantzick case study—as well as Russia and China seemed to be headed in that very direction, but no more. For various reasons, those regimes have retrenched: The Chinese leadership retains a tight grip on both society and the economy, while in Russia, Vladimir Putin seems to have tossed the whole democratic experiment under the bus. As for the rest of the world—well, Kurlantzick holds that nine of the 13 nations that most deteriorated politically between 2008 and 2010 are to be found in sub-Saharan Africa, while Central Asia and chunks of South America aren’t looking too good, either. The so-called Arab Spring is still unfolding but not showing terrific promise. Kurlantzick offers counsel on how to steer the world onto the right course, which, perhaps paradoxically, involves letting it find its own way or at least asking the West (and particularly America) to show a little humility while waiting for it to come around. Other useful nuggets: Separate out the work of the police and the army, which is not always the case in the developing world; take pains not to “shun nondemocratic partners,” such as Saudi Arabia, that may be on the path to becoming democratic; and respect whomever it is who has won a fair election—“if they play fair,” that is.

International-policy wonks will find much of interest, and Francis Fukuyama might want to consider updating his good book in light of it.

Pub Date: March 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-300-17538-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2013

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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