No bombshells, but revealing in detail and context.

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SECOND ACTS

PRESIDENTIAL LIVES AND LEGACIES AFTER THE WHITE HOUSE

Ex-presidents from Truman to Clinton: how they coped and carried on, and where they stand today.

Updegrove, a former publisher of Newsweek and president of Time Canada, credits late Time White House correspondent Hugh Sidey for guidance on framing his study of former U.S. presidents in the postwar era. His introduction effectively instills the historical mood: Initially, a national leader’s stepping aside voluntarily in the bloom of health was an unnatural act, simply without precedent or rules, until George Washington set the general hands-off tone for White House retirees. Not long after, however, the once-ineffective John Quincy Adams was essentially drafted back to Washington by congressional voters in his Massachusetts district, served nine successive terms and was an abolitionist force at the time of his death, in 1848. In Quincy Adams, the author sources the thread of “second act” redemption that resonates with the likes of the disgraced Richard Nixon, the undistinguished (in office) Jimmy Carter and even Bill Clinton, who despite leaving with the highest performance rating (65%, besting Ronald Reagan’s 64%) of any postwar president, felt and showed he had a lot of explaining to do. Both Carter, the only ex-president to have been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, and Nixon, Updegrove observes, “Were able to successfully pursue foreign-policy goals left unfinished.” But there is poignancy as well, for example, in LBJ’s dissipative relapse with cigarettes and booze that contributed to his death at 64—exactly when a computer model had predicted he would die based on family health history; or in Nancy Reagan’s dashed hopes for an Edmund Morris biography that ultimately portrayed her then-failing husband not as a Mt. Rushmore figure but the familiar yet enigmatic “Dutch.” In one priceless vignette, Harry Truman, harried by Bess to mow the lawn, intentionally does it on Sunday morning, to her deep chagrin as passing churchgoers take reproving notice.

No bombshells, but revealing in detail and context.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-59228-942-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Lyons Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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

NIGHT

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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