Smart and provocative, updating Robert Nozick and Friedrich Hayek while providing plenty of grist for liberal...

SKIN IN THE GAME

HIDDEN ASYMMETRIES IN DAILY LIFE

Noted statistician and business philosopher Taleb (Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, 2012, etc.) continues to inform us, none too gently, that we’ve got it all wrong.

“The curse of modernity is that we are increasingly populated by a class of people who are better at explaining than understanding.” The author argues that too much of our received wisdom in governance, finance, and other realms comes from academics and bureaucrats who aren’t taking calculated risks to advance civilization. Taleb reminds us that this “skin in the game” can be quite literal: One poor Persian judge was flayed alive for misconduct, with his son assuming the job on a seat made from his father’s flesh. “Skin in the game,” by the author’s reckoning, is more metaphorical, but nonetheless, it means that almost all of us who are not shielded by institutions and retainers “pay a price for [our] mistakes” and with any luck learn from them. Taleb’s take on things is largely libertarian, though he approvingly quotes a source as saying that this libertarianism is best applied at the federal level, while at the interpersonal level of family and friends, we should be socialists—i.e., share with kin, not with coercers. Even there—and even though Ron Paul is one of the book’s dedicatees—Taleb is no ideological purist. As he notes, even though the ideal of freedom is “one’s first most essential good,” some regulation is in order “if you can’t effectively sue.” The book is written at a high intellectual level, despite the author’s dismissal of intellectualism, and contains some daunting math (relegated to an appendix, happily). Taleb is at his best when he simplifies his arguments down to rules and speaks as a mentor to would-be statist youth, as when he counsels, “You must start a business. Put yourself on the line, start a business.”

Smart and provocative, updating Robert Nozick and Friedrich Hayek while providing plenty of grist for liberal counterargument.

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-425-28462-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

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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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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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