Cultural historian Gabler (An Empire of Their Own, 1988; Winchell, 1994) addresses a favorite subject of the punditocracy—the leaching of entertainment values into every aspect of modern culture—refreshingly, without moralizing. While he admires such forerunners as Richard Schickel (Intimate Strangers, 1985) and Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1985), Gabler shares neither their nostalgia for a mythic past, in which everyone accepted a secure hierarchy of cultural values, nor their slightly hysterical vision of a rapidly approaching future, in which no one will be able to distinguish between reality and fantasy. On the contrary, as Gabler’s sharp, class-conscious analysis of American history persuasively argues, conflict has always occurred between high art and low entertainment: —Sensationalist trash was not a default culture for the intellectually impaired but rather . . . a willful attempt to raze the elitists— high culture and destroy their authority.— This attempt gained strength at the end of the 19th century, when yellow journalism blurred the boundaries between news and sensationalism, and the —Republic of Entertainment— reached its apotheosis with the arrival of movies and then television. Few would argue with Gabler’s broad contention that —everything in the public sphere was now to be measured by entertainment,— as demonstrated in his amusingly acid survey of everything from television news to book publishing to celebrities (and politicians) whose lives are as much a subject for public consumption as their work. His claim that entertainment has become the primary force in ordinary people’s lives rests on shakier ground, though selected examples, like bankrupt small farmers creating agrarian theme parks—and the theatricality of contemporary shopping malls—have considerable bite. One can only applaud Gabler’s understanding that entertainment may empower as well as anesthetize the masses, though the book’s final pages suffer from his adamant refusal to decide which trend is dominant. At times infuriatingly inconclusive, but Gabler is probably right that —there [are] no simple answers, only vitally important issues.—

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 1998

ISBN: 0-679-41752-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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...


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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