Grim indeed and sometimes gruesome—and a brave work of investigation.




A firsthand look at the terror of war as visited on noncombatants exposed to American fire.

Civilians are always hurt and killed in war, collectively deemed “collateral damage” with all due regret. As McDonell (The Civilization of Perpetual Movement: Nomads in the Modern World, 2016, etc.) writes, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and other American theaters of operation, many of them have become “excess mortality,” a grim and Orwellian term that would seem to mean those killed beyond the actuarial numbers that enter into the calculus of “acceptable” death: If a sniper is on a roof and 100 civilians are slated to die in the bombardment required to eliminate that threat, then the 101st gets a whole new category. By any measure, according to a well-quoted epidemiological study, “at least 650,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the first three years of the war”—a figure, notes the author, that George W. Bush dismissed, saying that it was “only” 30,000. As to numbers, McDonell—who began his career as a teenager as the author of an undercooked but popular coming-of-age novel but hardened up as a roving journalist—does the math to show “information about innocent death in foreign wars is most accessible to America’s cosmopolitan wealthy, even though it’s mostly the working classes, domestically and abroad, who become casualties.” The statistics he turns up, working at the fringes of classified military information, are ugly, and they tell stories that speak to those working-class experiences—a pair of young Iraqis, for instance, who, braving fire to recover the body of a relative, court death by Iraqi or American fire, a choice that “is not their own, precisely.” The author concludes, with righteous anger, that “killing innocent people to increase our own security is cowardly.” That it also seems to be accepted military doctrine puts the lie to any notion of moral superiority that we might bring to the enterprise.

Grim indeed and sometimes gruesome—and a brave work of investigation.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1157-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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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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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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