A masterfully written political road map for anyone wondering how we got to where we are, a bad place indeed.

BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE

NEWT GINGRICH, THE FALL OF A SPEAKER, AND THE RISE OF THE NEW REPUBLICAN PARTY

Politics is war without blood, said Mao, but Newt Gingrich emerges as red in tooth and fang in this thoughtful study of his politics in action.

According to Zelizer’s (History and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.; The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society, 2015, etc.) account, Gingrich had acquired a thirst for political power by high school, announcing to a teacher that he intended to move to Georgia “to create a Republican Party.” That there was already such a party didn’t matter: He wasn’t in charge of it, and that was his first aim, certain as ever of the correctness of his views and the wrongness of his opponents. It took a few failed runs, but Gingrich rose steadily through the ranks of the Republican Party in Congress, undercutting his allies while waging ugly, unforgiving battles against his enemies. Gingrich, writes Zelizer, learned valuable lessons in leadership style and strategy alike from Richard Nixon, whom he credits with having gone after the overlooked blue-collar (and traditionally Democratic) vote shunned by the liberal/moderate wing of the GOP; he also changed the terms of the argument from “establishment versus outsider, not liberal versus conservative.” There are few admiring moments in the book since Gingrich is not an admirable man, but the author does give him points for chutzpah. After all, Gingrich based his empire-building campaigns in Congress on a war against corruption even as he was as guilty of it as anyone. Still, building much of his power on a concerted action to remove Speaker of the House Jim Wright from his post, he “made his biggest impact on the GOP by defining what partisanship should look like and by expanding the boundaries of what was permissible in the arena of congressional warfare.” In the bargain, writes Zelizer in this sharp, lucid portrait, he drew people even more radical than he into the party; in the end, they overthrew him, too.

A masterfully written political road map for anyone wondering how we got to where we are, a bad place indeed.

Pub Date: April 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59420-665-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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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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