If you’re a fan of Barthes and of the Umberto Eco of How to Travel with a Salmon, you’ll likely enjoy this modest, minor,...



A deft updating of Parisian semiotics and midcentury cultural criticism for our own time.

Roland Barthes died in 1980, run down by a vehicle in what Walter Benjamin called the capital of the 19th century; having taken some of Benjamin’s ideas and run with them, Barthes was already long renowned for such centrifugal books as Writing Degree Zero and Mythologies. It is the second book that Oxford-based literary scholar Conrad (Verdi and/or Wagner: Two Men, Two Worlds, Two Centuries, 2014, etc.) takes on in this sometimes fresh, sometimes tired look at the hidden structures and unacknowledged tendencies of our own day: why is Apple’s apple an apple, after all? Ah, there we go back to the Garden of Eden, where, Conrad cleverly opines, “the ban imposed by God had nothing to do with the wickedly tasty properties of the fruit: it was an arbitrary demonstration of divine power, like an order not to walk on the grass or feed the pigeons.” As with all cultural criticism, there’s an element of the unworldly in Conrad’s essays: of course the Apple icon on the computer has nothing to do with the biblical story, and who thought it did? There are some tired tropes at work, too, among others laments for the death of the book, which seems to be stubbornly refusing to die even as books are written about its demise. But there are many smart things about Conrad’s argument, too, as when, in a moment reminiscent of John Lennon on the popularity of God, he writes that Steve Jobs—who, it should be said, is far from his only subject here, though a prominent one—“brought about an awakening more permanent and widespread than Billy Graham’s soul-saving campaign.” True enough, even if Conrad seems to take arch delight in tweaking noses as he says so.

If you’re a fan of Barthes and of the Umberto Eco of How to Travel with a Salmon, you’ll likely enjoy this modest, minor, but entertaining rejoinder.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-500-29258-7

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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