Richly rewarding look back at an ambiguous age in American memory.



A NEW POLITICS, 1974-1980

Kalman (History/University of California at Santa Barbara; Yale Law School and the Sixties, 2009, etc.) picks up where Rick Perlstein left off in Nixonland (2008), when Gerald Ford took office from his disgraced predecessor in August 1974.

As a self-identified “liberal Democrat” who voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980, the author has a fascination with and healthy respect for the right, which enables her to approach the subject with Perlstein-like fairness and balance. Neither Ford nor Carter fares particularly well. Ford was the accidental president, the never-elected substitute for Nixon, selected for his popularity among Democrats and Republicans in Congress rather than for his skill or ambition. He never overcame the perception that his pardon of Nixon was a condition of his rise to power, nor did he understand until too late the political liability of nurturing Henry Kissinger and détente. Nevertheless, Kalman reminds us that Ford was smarter and more politically savvy than the popular caricature of him would suggest. But Carter’s apparent indecisiveness, writes the author, was very real, and cast his presidency adrift mostly until the Iranian hostage crisis finally gave him a reason for being president in the final year of his term. He projected a lack of confidence, even to the point of engaging in a weeklong, public navel-gazing session at midterm to figure out why his presidency seemed to be failing. The most insightful point Kalman makes about Carter is that his “centrist” tendencies played a key role in pushing American politics toward the right, especially in foreign policy, where, influenced by Zbigniew Brzezinski, he took a hard tack against the Soviets in arms control and in proxy wars in the Third World, but also in racial and labor politics at home. The author’s recounting of Bakke v. University of California at Davis, which resulted in a major reversal in affirmative action and civil-rights law, is history at its best. She teases out truths from the record that the media myth-making machinery typically obscures.

Richly rewarding look back at an ambiguous age in American memory.

Pub Date: June 28, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-393-07638-7

Page Count: 452

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2010

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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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