Goldsmith outlines a future that perhaps offers a hope we can embrace, since a retreat seems impossible.



A persuasive argument about how what conventional wisdom dismisses as “wasting time” is actually time well spent.

A conceptual artist and the first poet laureate of the Museum of Modern Art, Goldsmith (Capital: New York, Capital of the 20th Century, 2015, etc.) saw his vision go viral when he launched a course with the same name as this book at the University of Pennsylvania. “This class will focus on the alchemical recuperation of aimless surfing into substantial works of literature,” he hyperbolized within the course description, which concluded, “distraction, multitasking, and aimless drifting is mandatory.” A tweet that linked to that description led to requests for national interviews, and “what ensued was a media feeding frenzy, which ended up consuming itself.” He quickly had more than 300 students clamoring to take a course with a capacity of 15. As for the course itself, “From the start, it was a disaster….I had never seen a group of students as demoralized as these. Clearly, my experiment was failing.” Well, yes and no, because for a course designed without focus, the students had to discover the process on their own and proceed through uncharted territory. Much like the experience of surfing the web, the book doesn’t attempt to provide a cohesive analysis but instead leaps from this intuition to that epiphany and is willing to risk some false starts and even to waste some time along the way. Goldsmith suggests that long before information shifted into digital overdrive, thinkers and artists recognized the crucial role that letting the mind wander plays in creativity. The author finds the surrealists in general and Joseph Cornell in particular to be attuned to the spirit of the internet to come, that “his varied artistic output could be called multimedia some seventy-five years before it become the digital norm.” The disconnection that others bemoan from digital technology strikes the author as heightened communication.

Goldsmith outlines a future that perhaps offers a hope we can embrace, since a retreat seems impossible.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-241647-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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