Outstanding literary nonfiction, distinguished by in-depth reporting, compelling writing and deep thinking.

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WHATEVER IT TAKES

GEOFFREY CANADA’S QUEST TO CHANGE HARLEM AND AMERICA

New York Times Magazine editor Tough profiles an ambitious effort to simultaneously address the seemingly eternal societal problems of poverty, class stratification, educational underachievement and racial discrimination.

Frustrated by the limited number of people he could help in his job at a nonprofit organization providing services for at-risk youth, Geoffrey Canada in 1999 founded a large-scale initiative eventually dubbed the Harlem Children’s Zone. He believed that to truly make a difference in a disadvantaged community, he must provide comprehensive services to residents from birth (or earlier) until death. With money raised privately as well as from government entities, Canada formulated programs providing prenatal care, instruction in parenting skills, early childhood education, K-12 schooling and help with the college-application process. The breadth and depth of his vision was either breathtaking or breathtakingly impractical, depending on your point of view. The author, though obviously an admirer, delineates the problems with Canada’s program theory and its implementation as well as the strengths. While doing so, he moves seamlessly among three areas, situating accounts of Canada’s life and policies within the larger context of previous movements to alleviate the consequences of poverty, class and race. Tough shows even the most naïve reader how difficult it is to grapple with the question of how to take an entire community of mostly disadvantaged children and mostly undereducated parents without financial resources and transform them—or at least the children as they grow—into fully functioning members of the middle class. To the extent that Canada is succeeding, the author attributes a portion of the victory to his ability to appeal to donors and volunteers across the political spectrum. Neither Democrats nor Republicans nor independents can articulate sound reasons to oppose this visionary socioeconomic experiment.

Outstanding literary nonfiction, distinguished by in-depth reporting, compelling writing and deep thinking.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-618-56989-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2008

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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