Alarming, provocative and convincing.

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THE NEW JIM CROW

MASS INCARCERATION IN THE AGE OF COLORBLINDNESS

A civil-rights lawyer’s disturbing view of why young black men make up the majority of the more than two million people now in America’s prisons.

In this explosive debut, Alexander (Law/Moritz College of Law and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity) argues that the imprisonment of unusually large numbers of young blacks and Latinos—most harshly sentenced for possession or sale of illegal drugs, mainly marijuana—constitutes “a stunningly comprehensive and well-designed system of racialized social control.” The “warehousing” of inner-city youths, she writes, is a new form of Jim Crow under which drug offenders—in jail or prison, on probation or parole—are denied employment, housing, education and public benefits; face a lifetime of shame; and rarely successfully integrate into mainstream society. The author blames the situation mainly on the War on Drugs, begun by Ronald Reagan in 1982, which grew out of demands for “law and order” that were actually a racially coded backlash to the civil-rights movement. The situation continues because of racial indifference, not racial bias, she writes. Many will dismiss the author’s assertions; others will find her observations persuasive enough to give pause. Most people who use or sell illegal drugs are white, but in many states 90 percent of those admitted to prison for drug offenses are black or Latino. Police departments, given financial incentives—cash grants and the right to keep confiscated cash and assets from drug raids—to focus on drug enforcement, find it easier to send SWAT teams into poor neighborhoods, where they will face less political backlash, than into gated communities and college frat houses. Also, most people do not care what happens to drug criminals, feeling that “they get what they deserve.” So what’s to be done? Alexander writes that civil-rights leaders, reluctant to advocate for criminals, remain quiet on the issue; President Obama, an admitted former user of illegal drugs, is not in a position to offer leadership; and policymakers offer only piecemeal reforms. She hopes a new grassroots movement will foster frank discussion about race, cultivate an ethic of compassion for all and end the drug war and mass incarceration.

Alarming, provocative and convincing.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59558-103-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2009

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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