While the mound of period details can be overwhelming, this book paints a complex portrait of a momentous war.

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JOHN WILKES BOOTH, THOMAS J. JACKSON, ROBERT E. LEE, EDMUND RUFFIN, JAMES EWELL BROWN STUART AND THE CIVIL WAR

A nonfiction account of the Civil War offers the perspectives of some notable Southerners.

Debut author Brewer centers this exhaustive look at the Civil War on the following men: assassin John Wilkes Booth, diarist Edmund Ruffin, and Confederate military leaders Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, and James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart. The action begins in 1859. John Brown’s violent attempt to commandeer Harpers Ferry turned out to be a harbinger of events to come. Official hostilities did not begin until 1861 with the Confederate seizure of Fort Sumter, but once they started, there was no easy end to the conflict. And so readers follow along as the main players go about their business. Booth maintained a career as a popular stage actor while developing a sharp hatred toward Abraham Lincoln. Ruffin, a Southern planter who is remembered for his contributions to agriculture and his diary full of vitriol, recorded his general disgust with the North. Meanwhile, Lee, Jackson, and Stuart commanded the fighting. The text relies on a great number of firsthand accounts. Letters from soldiers, entries from diaries, and correspondences from officials are all included to create an image of a time that to modern readers may seem almost inconceivably brutal. Bayonet charges, musket fire, and blundering superiors were only the beginning of a warrior’s woes on the battlefield. Then there were the harsh conditions on the homefront (which of course often turned into a war zone). The ambitious book certainly makes the horrors and confusion of the period palpable. But by following so many individuals, things can get a bit tangled. It will not be easy for readers to keep track of the adventures of Lee, Jackson, and Stuart—or the minutiae of Booth’s stage appearances and the activities of Ruffin’s relatives. Yet while even casual students of the era will be familiar with Booth, Lee, Jackson, and Stuart, the inclusion of Ruffin makes for a novel choice. He proves to be a passionate, racist, and highly engaged spectator. Even as he complained of his declining health and the disastrous fate of the Confederacy, he was keen to make his observations clear in his diary. The juxtaposition of his thoughts with actual occurrences of the war makes for a compelling, if lengthy, combination.

While the mound of period details can be overwhelming, this book paints a complex portrait of a momentous war.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 1153

Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2018

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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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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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