Capably transforms one of the bleakest episodes in modern history into an instructive account of events that have lasting...

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THE KILLING OF MAJOR DENIS MAHON

A MYSTERY OF OLD IRELAND

Journalist Duffy (The Bielski Brothers: The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Saved 1,200 Jews, and Built a Village in the Forest, 2003) recounts the story of the “Strokestown Massacre,” offering a vivid account of the Great Irish Famine along the way.

Murdered by starving tenants as he drove a horse-drawn carriage through his blighted property, Major Denis Mahon soon became both an international symbol of landlord cruelty and an example of the fate that could befall those who grossly mishandled estates in a crisis. Duffy ably demonstrates how a series of debacles, both inside and outside Mahon’s home county of Roscommon, led to the murder. The repeated failures of the all-important potato crop added a greater strain to the relationship between poor Catholics and the wealthy, land-owning Anglo-Irish who governed them. Further, a breakdown in governmental aid and a lack of decisive action in Parliament contributed to this climate of hatred. Duffy asserts that Mahon initially put forth a well-meaning effort to help his troubled tenants, paying for many of them to emigrate to America aboard what would soon be known as “coffin ships.” The acrimony between the tenants and their wealthy Protestant landlords was hardly mollified by the local Catholic clergy, who sided squarely with the ill-fed masses who formed the most desperate elements of their faithful. For her part, Queen Victoria took the murder as further proof that the starving Irish were unworthy of her aid, and her deplorable diary entries reflect the most baffling kind of governmental malfeasance—“really they are terrible people…it is a constant source of anxiety & annoyance.” Many readers will be distressed by the accounts of such large-scale neglect of so many citizens as they were turned out of their shacks for nonpayment of rent. While Duffy occasionally goes into excessive detail about the particulars of the trial, his exploration into this devastating period in Irish history is a scrupulously researched and well-presented record.

Capably transforms one of the bleakest episodes in modern history into an instructive account of events that have lasting repercussions to this day.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-06-084050-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2007

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

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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