OUR KIND OF PEOPLE

INSIDE AMERICA'S BLACK UPPER CLASS

A record of the pleasures and the follies of an elevated black society. According to Graham, all racial, ethnic, and religious groups lay claim to their own privileged class—that group which, either because of family name, wealth, title, education, or other circumstance fashions itself a cut above the rest. The class sets itself apart with their clubs, their fraternities, and their sororities, while looking askance at any outsiders who can never make the grade. The reasons for forming such exclusive groups are often perfectly honorable, most commonly because members have been denied access to other organizations in the larger population. But matters can get out of hand, as Graham (Member of the Club: Reflections on Life in a Racially Polarized World, 1995) perhaps unwittingly demonstrates in his examination of what he calls the black elite. His is less of a critical examination and more of a glossary of people, places, and things constituting the black upper class. And as one might expect, this realm of the right colleges and degrees and pedigrees is downright incestuous, a world where cotillions and coming-out parties still matter. Graham, an insider and attorney, knows it well. Yet his contemporary savvy matters less, in the end, than does his appetite for historical detail. His insights into the story of blacks in vacation spots like Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and Sag Harbor on Long Island, N.Y., for instance, are fascinating. Nevertheless, the ongoing claustrophobia of privilege (with many of the same people and their coteries cycling and recycling) can weary a reader. One walks away with the impression that Graham’s effort could have been cut in half—and all one would have missed is an extra afternoon of interminable croquet, followed by cucumber sandwiches down by the gazebo. (38 b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 1999

ISBN: 0-06-018352-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1998

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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