Witty and opinionated insight on how “bad” behavior can morph into, out of, and back into favor over the course of time.




How and why the tolerances for debauchery have changed over the course of time.

Screenwriter, playwright, and author Stein (American Panic: A History of Who Scares Us and Why, 2014, etc.) formulates an astute, fascinating, occasionally overwrought treatise on why vices became such hot-button issues in past eras yet tend to normalize and often empower today. The author reaches back as far as the beginnings of the British settlements when Native Americans shared their tobacco and thus provoked a perennial “tail-chasing war on vice.” Smoking soon became frowned upon, even outlawed, as did bowling, shuffleboard, and juggling, all activities considered gateways to gambling, brawls, and witchcraft. Stein moves from puritanical Massachusetts, with laws against adultery, virginal sex, and homosexual acts, to the post-Revolution vices of pornography and prostitution. The author also spotlights America’s nationwide war on drugs, the beginning of which occurred with the Opium Exclusion Act in 1909. Whether it was 19th-century housewives addicted to laudanum, Mormon polygamists, Nevada prostitution, or interracial sex, vices, writes Stein, remain a constant source of pleasure for indulgers and aggravation for detractors. Much progress has been made, he notes, in overhauling industries such as the movie business, which has historically promoted violence through action films while glamorizing drug use and cigarettes. Stein takes particular aim at public moral reformers throughout history—e.g., moralist Anthony Comstock and the Catholic Church, both entities who made their marks on society by staunchly advocating vice repression. The author regrettably devotes less attention to our modern, politically challenged, easily offended society, where freedom still reigns and creative arts, even excessively controversial expressions, remain unpunishable under the First Amendment. Stein believes that in examining what was considered a vice a century ago, juxtaposed with what is considered immoral by today’s standards, we are offered a glimpse into how morals and behaviors shape-shift and how we all change and adapt within an ever evolving society.

Witty and opinionated insight on how “bad” behavior can morph into, out of, and back into favor over the course of time.

Pub Date: July 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61234-894-0

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Potomac Books

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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