A great read for historians that will also appeal to anyone who enjoys a first-rate family saga.

SKINNY HOUSE

A MEMOIR OF FAMILY

This debut family biography tells the story of the author’s grandfather, a homebuilder who built a 10-foot-wide, three-story house after losing everything in the Great Depression.

In 1932, after losing his business, Nathan Seely, one of the first African-American homebuilding business owners in New York, drafted a blueprint and singlehandedly built the titular house in Mamaroneck out of scrap materials, which saved the family from homelessness. However, it failed to salvage Nathan and Lillian’s troubled marriage. Nathan was a man who defined himself by his work, and by working for himself. For many years, he and his brother Willard ran a successful construction business, aimed at building affordable houses for African-American people. Lillian, who’d become accustomed to living in a big house during prosperous times, felt that he should have tried other lines of work. Meanwhile, differences between the gregarious Nathan and his introverted son, Tom, were exacerbated by Tom’s lack of interest in the building trades, and the spartan conditions of life in the Skinny House. Author Seely’s interest in her family history was piqued by the architectural oddity of the titular house, as well as the fact that her own father rarely smiled in early family photos. She knew that he and her grandfather were estranged, but she didn’t know why, so in 1998 she became determined to pursue the mystery. The result is a history that reads very much like a novel, and the extensive citations and photos only enhance the reading experience. Along the way, Seely meticulously reconstructs her family’s story, setting it against the backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance, Prohibition, and World War II. Although she knew some family members only through research and anecdote, she turns them all into living, breathing human beings on the page, including such vivid secondary characters as her Aunt Sug.

A great read for historians that will also appeal to anyone who enjoys a first-rate family saga.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 221

Publisher: Skinny House Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2018

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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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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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