Good, timely history for the #MeToo moment.

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BRINGING DOWN THE COLONEL

A SEX SCANDAL OF THE GILDED AGE, AND THE POWERLESS WOMAN WHO TOOK ON WASHINGTON

Journalist Miller (Good Catholics: The Battle over Abortion in the Catholic Church, 2014) unearths a juicy 19th-century sex scandal.

For years, Willie Breckenridge, a beloved congressman from Kentucky, carried on a long-term extramarital affair with Madeline Pollard, a women of modest origins—and then was sued for breach of contract when, after his wife died, he married a well-connected widow rather than his mistress. Adultery, of course, was not uncommon. What was new was Pollard’s insistence that having behaved less-than-virtuously did not mean she should be treated like trash—and her demand that the powerful man she'd slept with not get off scot-free. The press went wild, reporting on every breath drawn in court and dissecting the meaning of the suit after the jury found for the plaintiff. Miller, a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches, argues that the Breckenridge-Pollard drama was a turning point of sorts. She credits the case and its attendant publicity with “making it acceptable to talk openly about sex” and with eroding the double standard whereby men could stray sexually without damaging their reputations, but women who transgressed norms of chastity and fidelity were ruined. Even the (male) editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal responded to the case by criticizing “a code of morality” that burdened women with “all the responsibility for purity and all the penalty for wrong-doing.” As engaging as Miller’s central story are the minor characters, including Jennie Tucker, a young secretary hired by the Breckenridge team to spy on Pollard; and Breckenridge’s daughter, Nisba, who, after the scandal receded, became the first woman to be admitted to the Kentucky bar and the first woman to receive a doctorate in political science from the University of Chicago. Nisba's and Jennie’s stories, far from being filler, transform what might have been merely an account of a racy scandal into a panoramic examination of women’s changing roles and of women’s efforts to provide for themselves and make their way in the largely male public sphere.

Good, timely history for the #MeToo moment.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-25266-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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