Perhaps Cocker’s fervent and entertaining prose should warn us about how readily we accept progress as an answer to war,...



A passionately written history of four episodes in European imperialism by environmentalist and journalist Cocker (Loneliness and Time, 1993).

Colonial explorations in Asia, America, and Africa made the Europeans conscious of their own prosperity and raised questions in their minds about the capacity of other races and civilizations to advance as far as they had. European judgments of their overseas subjects were conditioned by their own insecurities about stepping forward, of course: the conquistadores, for example, believed that their advanced technologies, weapons, and Christianity justified the extermination of the Aztecs, whose taste for human sacrifice haunted the Spaniards’ aspirations for religious glory and martial honor. After the genocidal Black War, and as the violent appropriation of hunting and gathering lands continued to obliterate the culture and the lives of the aboriginal Tasmanians, English colonists complacently wondered if the native inhabitants’ depression and listlessness were signs that God had appointed them to displace the natives. And even after they had ruthlessly corralled every Apache onto reservations, white Americans thought that the widespread alcoholism among the tribes was a symbol of racial decline. While Cocker attacks the idea of progress as a justification for conquest—arguing that even the present age is no exception to the patterns of the past 500 years—he insists that we must make progress toward a more fuller understanding of European crimes if we are to make native peoples’ history a part of our own. Whether they want their history to be a part of our story is a question that Cocker does not entertain. Nor does he hesitate to recommend as a cure the very concept that, by his own admission, led to the disease: progress. After all, the Europeans whom Cocker studies had no trouble adopting the idea of progress as a solution to the problems wrought by their bloody conquests.

Perhaps Cocker’s fervent and entertaining prose should warn us about how readily we accept progress as an answer to war, conquest, and genocide.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8021-1666-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

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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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