A mixture of delicious truths and ingenious sociological concepts that will convince most readers that we pay too much...

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THE HUMAN NETWORK

HOW YOUR SOCIAL POSITION DETERMINES YOUR POWER, BELIEFS, AND BEHAVIORS

A worthy exploration of “how networks form and why they exhibit certain key patterns” as well as “how those patterns determine our power, opinions, opportunities, behaviors, and accomplishments.”

Early on in his first book for a general audience, Jackson (Economics/Stanford Univ.; Social and Economic Networks, 2008, etc.) looks at the friend paradox: Almost everyone has friends. Many people have the impression that others have more friends than they, and this is not neuroticism; it’s true. After all, popular people have more friends than unpopular people, so they are overrepresented on everyone’s list of friends, and people with few friends are underrepresented. People exaggerate the number of friends who drink and take drugs because these are social (i.e., networked) activities, and they underestimate the amount of non-networked behavior—e.g., studying. Social media amplifies this: 98 percent of Twitter users have fewer followers than those they follow. As a result, popular people exert a disproportionate influence simply because they appear to dominate our network. Jackson expands this to clearly reveal unnerving network effects in areas of our lives including journalism, public health, politics, economics, and the digital world. The wisdom of crowds is genuine. Given unbiased information, their conclusions are more accurate than any individual’s. Of course, the stupidity of crowds is equally genuine. The internet has triggered a vast expansion of human networks, but because we prefer people with behaviors and beliefs similar to ours (“homophily”), the last 20 years have seen an explosion of fake news, political polarization, and ugly nationalism. However, we have seen much of this before. “Humans,” writes the author, “have been rewired many times: by the printing press, letter writing, trains, the telegraph, overseas travel, the telephone, the internet, and the advent of social media. Perhaps it is our arrogance that leads us to assume that the current changes…are truly revolutionary and unique.”

A mixture of delicious truths and ingenious sociological concepts that will convince most readers that we pay too much attention to the people around us.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-87143-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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