There’s no room for comfort in Berman’s critique: If he’s right, we’re doomed. Hope he’s wrong, then, but by all means...

DARK AGES AMERICA

THE FINAL PHASE OF EMPIRE

A resounding, if sometimes overwrought, indictment of all that is wrong with American culture, from arrogance to xenophobia and all points between.

As sociologist and cultural critic Berman (Wandering God, 2000) notes, the rest of the world hates us because we don’t know it hates us—and don’t much care. The American empire is both military and cultural, and both are weaker than we think; two pitiable Asian nations are enough to pin down our vaunted fighting forces, and “many of America’s values in the early twenty-first century are corrosive, and unless the nation can do some rather elaborate soul searching, it needs to lose influence in the rest of the world.” Neocons will dismiss the claim that America’s influence is anything but benign, but Berman fires with both barrels at a culture that, he argues, is rapidly slipping into “second- or third-rate status” as an international power, to be replaced, one supposes, by China, which by Berman’s account is just an Asian iteration of the same problem, in which society is an arena for personal enrichment with none of the requisite reciprocal obligations. The great mass of Americans, by Berman’s depiction, live lives driven by “infantile needs and impulses,” thereby—and here he grows breathless—making possible a society marked by latchkey kids, college graduates who can’t find America on a world map, idiotic television shows, obese mall-goers, knee-jerk reactionaries and a president who “lack[s] the ground-level gray matter necessary for the job.” Not that it’s all Bush’s fault. By Berman’s lights, he’s a symptom—but also a cause, a perfect exemplar of a Darwinian society that doesn’t believe in Darwinism, a country of a few wealthy people and of “competition, extreme individualism, and loneliness forced onto everybody else,” what passes for freedom these days.

There’s no room for comfort in Berman’s critique: If he’s right, we’re doomed. Hope he’s wrong, then, but by all means consider his provocative argument.

Pub Date: April 11, 2006

ISBN: 0-393-05866-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2006

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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