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REMEMBERING PEASANTS

A PERSONAL HISTORY OF A VANISHED WORLD

A first-class work combining social history and ethnohistory with an unerring sense for a good story.

A British historian looks deeply into the lost past of the peasantry, people who “hope for the future but do not forget the past.”

For most of history, Joyce writes, most people belonged to the peasantry, the class of people who made their living from the land. They were concentrated in scattered villages that favored something approaching democratic rule, even in the face of larger, more autocratic systems. The author focuses on Ireland, Poland, and southern Italy, but he also ranges widely. One surprise is how rapidly peasant communities have declined as agriculture has become less central to national and international economies. The famed English village of Akenfield, for example, the subject of a canonical book of rural sociology, has largely been gentrified and its past commodified, although the village does have “some Polish immigrant workers, people now more likely to have been peasants than anyone in the place.” Across the narrow sea, “rural Ireland has receded from people’s daily awareness,” with farmland now retired for leisure and tourism. Even the Mezzogiorno of Italy, considered “among the most ‘backward’ [areas] in Europe,” has become relatively wealthy. Joyce lauds many of the habits of agricultural peoples, including economic awareness, adaptability, and generosity. For example, he notes, in rural communities, money was loaned without interest, which by definition separated peasants from capitalists; politics tended to be decentralized, resistant to central authority, and bent in many cases toward anarchism (“not surprisingly, given peasant distrust of the state”); and religious belief preserved archaic and even pre-Christian beliefs while being being marked by “its lack of dogma, its indifference to theology, its human-centered God.” Why remember these peasants? As Joyce replies resoundingly, “We have a debt to those forgotten by history”: a debt that this elegantly written book seeks to repay.

A first-class work combining social history and ethnohistory with an unerring sense for a good story.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2024

ISBN: 9781668031087

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2024

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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