A creative and scientifically wide-ranging account of Europe’s success as a conqueror.

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The Rules of Invasion

WHY EUROPEANS NATURALLY INVADED THE NEW WORLD

A sweeping debut book attempts to explain the politics of invasion in terms of ecological factors.

The possibility that external factors—rather than philosophical or cultural principles—are the primary determinants in societal success was famously explored by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997). Hecht explicitly fashions his book to be both a follow-up and rival to Diamond’s groundbreaking effort. For Hecht, however, the central causal factor is ecological, and he explores the imaginative and counterintuitive thesis that the nature of the landscape itself decisively shapes the ability of nations to become prolific invaders of other countries, extending their reach and power. The author considers the relationships between biodiversity, cultural diversity, and human behavior, concluding that the three are entwined in a complex causal nexus. There is also a multitude of factors that contributes to biogeographic diversity: altitude; heterogeneity of flora and fauna; the practice of agriculture, which tends to diminish biodiversity; the scale of the land available; and many others. An eclectic work, Hecht’s study is strikingly multidisciplinary, drawing from esoteric fields of study like invasion ecology. Some of his ultimate conclusions offer concise explanations that almost court skepticism: the Chinese turn out to be unspectacular invaders because of their dependence upon rice, which weds them to a specific, geographically bound climate. (Grain farming is less labor-intensive and less committal, unleashing the nomadic impulse behind the invasion of foreign territory.) Europeans, on the other hand, are overachieving invaders, given the consideration of 16 different factors. Hecht’s examination certainly doesn’t lack diligence, and he’s scoured an extraordinary pile of disparate secondary literature. He’s impressively keen to withhold the drawing of confident conclusions when the evidence doesn’t warrant it—at one point, he casts doubts on an entire chapter of his own. The writing can be uneven—he vacillates between haltingly dense academic jargon and an overly familiar breeziness. In addition, he has no choice but to acknowledge that however edifying his choice of causal determinants is, it is necessarily limited and reductive: “By circumstance, topography, intellectual thought, means and abilities, and perhaps some luck and quirks of history, nations of Europe became great invaders.” Still, this is a fun and enthralling exploration, and no less so because it inadvertently advertises its own philosophical failings.

A creative and scientifically wide-ranging account of Europe’s success as a conqueror. 

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 273

Publisher: iBooks

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2016

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

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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