Maybe it was all just (mostly) fun, but Torgoff's father’s question remains unanswered: “What did any of it really mean?”



Music writer Torgoff informally collects scenes from the illicit drug culture during the second half of the 20th century.

As all the singular and emblematic figures in the dope world over the last 50 years come walking through the author’s door, he passes on their words—good, bad, indifferent, paranoid—or tenders a bit of their drug history if they’re dead. Torgoff is not here to pass judgment, but rather to chronicle the rise of illicit drug use. He takes the middle road. Demonizing dope is absurd and pointless, he argues, and it’s equally nutty to claim that drugs are harmless, as a percentage of users will always experience abuse problems. He simply wants to know what Timothy Leary and William Burroughs were after. (The former said he learned “that consciousness and intelligence can be systematically expanded”; the latter noted after his first injection, “Well, now, that’s very interesting”). Allen Ginsberg’s “optical consciousness” interests him too. Torgoff paints a sad picture of Charlie Parker, who emerges as something of an idiot savant with one overwhelming fixation enwrapping one prodigious talent, and an equally sad picture of the Summer of Love: as novelist Tom Robbins said, “All utopias attract thugs, like iron filings to a magnet.” The hope for utopia, Torgoff notes, forms a major part of dope’s attraction, as do the brilliance of drug-fueled synesthesia and the wildness of literary forms created by users. In the 1960s, he recalls, smoking dope led to other kinds of rebellion: “All you had to do was get high to understand in the most visceral sense that the government was lying about pot; once you saw through that hoax, you started questioning what the authorities were saying about everything else.” Or maybe you got lost to bad acid or crack. Anything was possible.

Maybe it was all just (mostly) fun, but Torgoff's father’s question remains unanswered: “What did any of it really mean?”

Pub Date: May 13, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-3010-8

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2004

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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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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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