Though Zoepf demonstrates a few instances of how “small reform turns out to be even more transformational than its most...




New America Foundation fellow Zoepf attempts to make “the case for small gestures” by extremely circumscribed Arab women.

The author spent 2004 to 2007 as a New York Times stringer in Syria and Lebanon, learning Arabic and befriending many women and hearing their stories. Later, she interviewed Egyptian women who participated in the Arab Spring in 2011. Her work displays wonderfully moving detail and subtlety, and therein lies the problem regarding her thesis that these sheltered, protected, infantilized young women are somehow closet feminists. The more she delves into the lives of these women—revealing the segregated restaurants, cluelessness about marrying the men chosen for them, inability (for Saudi women) to drive or attend sporting events or do anything without a “guardian’s” permission or presence, subjection to horrific “virginity tests” and even murder to preserve the “honor” of their male relatives—the more deeply and irreversibly oppressed they will seem to Western readers. With every enlightened moment Zoepf introduces—e.g., that many of the Saudi teenagers at a dessert party were studying law—the other shoe drops: in this case, that Saudi Arabia only licensed its first female lawyers in October 2013. The author chronicles many shocking moments. In “The Most Promiscuous Virgins in the World,” she investigates Lebanese party girls and the granting of anal and oral sex (but not vaginal) in order to attract the small pool of available males. She also looks at the unbelievable reasoning behind one Syrian woman’s wearing of the hijab: to keep men from becoming so aroused that they abuse a child. In the author’s experience, the women who did rebel—e.g., the Saudi driving protesters of 1990, the participants in the Tahrir Square rallies—often paid a terrible price.

Though Zoepf demonstrates a few instances of how “small reform turns out to be even more transformational than its most devoted proponents could have predicted,” the evolving “personal agency” she witnessed is almost too subtle (yet) to be perceived.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-388-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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