Read this excellent book; it’s your civic duty.

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IF WE CAN KEEP IT

HOW THE REPUBLIC COLLAPSED AND HOW IT MIGHT BE SAVED

Daily Beast columnist Tomasky (Bill Clinton, 2017, etc.) confirms what we already knew—America is polarized—and masterfully charts how it always has been that way, especially at the beginning. What we are now experiencing is pure tribalism.

In decades past, political quarrels often ran within party lines as much as between opposites, and historical conditions and social and institutional forces caused them to compromise. That is no longer the case. The Democratic Party is a diverse group coalition of interest groups, while the Republican Party is more of a single movement, believing mostly in smaller government, fiscal responsibility, and strong defense. The current administration has largely tossed much of what used to be known as “traditional values.” The author expertly sifts through American history, citing compromises, which mostly made everyone unhappy. However, there was an era of genuine bipartisanship, roughly 1945 to 1980, when we had a national consensus and people worked together; this is what Tomasky calls an aberration of civility. Even though it was not necessarily true, people believed in the “American Way of Life.” Many causal events contributed to our current political atmosphere: the religious right’s sudden activism (against desegregation, among other issues); the Ronald Reagan administration’s dedication to deregulation, especially of banks; Newt Gingrich’s toxic attack against basic standards and norms; and the savings and loan crisis. Regarding Gingrich, Tomasky writes, “forty years later, I think it’s clear that in terms of the influence he’s had on conservatism and on both the discourse and practice of politics, he has been, for better or worse, the most influential Republican of his age.” The worst of our polarization has likely flowed from the Bill Clinton impeachment and the 2000 election. Refreshingly, Tomasky also offers “A Fourteen-Point Agenda to Reduce Polarization,” which includes a host of reasonable ideas—e.g., end gerrymandering and the Senate filibuster, eliminate the Electoral College, and, intriguingly, “reduce college to three years and make year four a service year.”

Read this excellent book; it’s your civic duty.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63149-408-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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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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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