THE WISH FOR KINGS

DEMOCRACY AT BAY

The editor of Harper's and author of Imperial Masquerade (1990), etc., reaches the top of his form in five distinguished essays arguing that too few Americans any longer care or know enough to protect and nurture democratic institutions. ``[The] habits of liberty have fallen into disuse,'' writes Lapham, ``and the promise of democracy no longer inspires or exalts a majority of the people lucky enough to have been born under its star.'' America has devolved into an oligarchy, the argument begins—an argument buttressed with facts, figures, and observations—and the nation's collective frame of mind has changed as well over the past 30 years from that of ``democrat'' to that of ``courtier'': from a citizenry that understands government to be what the governed make of it to a citizenry that passively and obsequiously seeks favors and dispensations from the high and unresponsive powers that be. A numbing and closing down of democratic energies and freedoms of discourse is one result of such a situation, since ``[very] seldom does anybody hazard a guess or an opinion that might harm his or her chance of advancement,'' so that, even in the greatest universities, ``the range of acceptable opinion bears comparison with the wingspan of a bumblebee.'' Government itself (``a mock democracy'') is excoriated no less than is the ``chronic servility'' of American journalism in performing its ``duties as court chamberlain and archflatterer.'' And both are part of a nation trapped by a mass media whose vocabulary ``doesn't lend itself to the discussion of complicated political issues, much less to moral ambiguity or moments of doubt.'' The appeal of a candidate like Ross Perot was really the appeal ``of benevolent despotism,'' and Lapham's warning that ``the wish for kings is the fear of freedom'' takes on special power alongside his reminder that ``liberty withers and decays unless it's put to use.'' Eloquent, piercingly intelligent essays crying out against America's Orwellian future.

Pub Date: June 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-8021-1446-6

Page Count: 213

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1993

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

Did you like this book?

more