Meticulously compiled, this is a thought-provoking literary aid.



A far-reaching encyclopedia of literary geography offers valuable insights into the role of place in poetry and prose.

As edited by Houston (Reading Joan Didion, 2009, etc.), this study delivers a comprehensive A-to-Z exploration of more than 100 real and imagined settings across classic and contemporary literature, from Jefferson, Mississippi, in William Faulkner’s novel Absalom! Absalom! to the interior of a single room in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The selections were based on the “most popularly taught selections in high school and college,” and Houston says the book is “ideal for high school classes and introductory college-level courses,” although she believes more advanced students can appreciate its analytical depth. Houston’s introduction answers the question “what is literary geography?” and discusses key spatial theorists and the role of place in poetry and prose. The encyclopedia also features an appendix that elaborates on the literary importance of significant locations, from Paris to England’s Lake District. A detailed bibliography offers valuable recommendations for further reading. The format of each entry is clear and concise, opening with a brief overview of the text, such as: “Jane Eyre is Charlotte Brontë’s short novel about a woman who takes a position as governess at the estate of a wealthy landowner, Edward Rochester.” The entry then zeroes in on the spatial significance of the “British Moors”: “the landscape is also a scary place for Jane growing up because of regional folk tales. Locals tell stories about various ghosts or specters that inhabit the moors.” The tenor of such entries is suitable for high school classes, but more advanced readers may see them as simplistic. Similarly, headings such as the “Cultural Geography of Class Equality” may appear intimidating to some younger students. Houston might have benefited from addressing the encyclopedia to a particular group of students rather than attempting to appeal to all. Still, it’s a testament to the breadth of this book that it examines contemporary titles such as Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close alongside The Odyssey, and browsing its pages no doubt will provide a vital springboard to further research.

Meticulously compiled, this is a thought-provoking literary aid.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4408-4254-2

Page Count: 381

Publisher: Greenwood

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

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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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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...


A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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