A concise, solid biography of “the first revolutionary abolitionist,” a diminutive man who was decades ahead of his time.



A biography of a nearly forgotten Quaker whose life still resonates.

In his youth, Benjamin Lay (1681-1759), born in Colchester, England, was an unschooled shepherd and glover. Though a hunchback and not much taller than 4 feet, he became a common sailor. The Caribbean island of Barbados, where he became a merchant, was a major center of the world slave trade. As Rediker (Atlantic History/Univ. of Pittsburgh; Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail, 2014, etc.) notes, this was where Lay viewed firsthand the manifold evils of the traffic in human beings, leading to his career as a fervent and intractable abolitionist. With his wife, Sarah, who matched his mighty spirit, Lay moved to Pennsylvania to join the Society of Friends. There, he quickly made himself unwelcome through his fervent preaching against slavery, especially targeting fellow Friends who kept slaves. In a form of guerrilla theater, at one meeting, clad in a military tunic, he stabbed a concealed bladder with a sword, spattering nearby Quakers with blood-red juice. Lay was formally disowned by various groups as he persisted in his demands for piety, humility, and reverence for all life. Through it all, he practiced what he preached, living in a cave, making his own clothes, and growing his own food (he was a staunch vegetarian). Ascetic and religious and also an autodidact, Lay compiled a significant text, which was largely a commonplace book with lessons from the Old Testament and the book of Revelation as well as classical philosophy. Titled, clearly enough, All Slave-Keepers that Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates, it was edited and published by his good friend Benjamin Franklin. Relying on Lay’s book and pamphlets, Quaker records, and contemporaneous accounts, Rediker provides a valuable addition to abolitionist historiography.

A concise, solid biography of “the first revolutionary abolitionist,” a diminutive man who was decades ahead of his time.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8070-3592-4

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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