Filled with some good popular science, but to find it you have to wend through Bentley’s over-the-top idea of a really bad...

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WHY SH*T HAPPENS

THE SCIENCE OF A REALLY BAD DAY

Things go relentlessly, inexorably wrong in this account of a day in the life of a hapless hero who should have stayed in bed.

Bentley (Computer Science/University College London; The Book of Numbers, 2008, etc.) begins with his hero’s failure to hear the alarm clock, a mishap the author uses to discourse on human sleep and dreaming. Next comes a fall from slipping on shampoo in the bathroom and a chance to explain what makes soap soap. (It’s a marriage of alkali and oil that allows soap molecules to wrap up oil and grease from your skin while letting dirt dissolve in water.) What follows is the inevitable nick while shaving, and Bentley’s exegesis on skin, hair follicles and blood-clotting mechanisms, and why blotting with tissue not only can introduce bacteria to the cut, but also disrupt the cells trying to close the wound. And so it goes through several dozen brief chapters that chart more examples of Murphy’s law at work. There’s burnt toast for breakfast. A tank full of diesel fuel instead of gasoline. Another fall while running after the bus. Chewing gum that gets in his hair during the ride. A missed stop. Getting soaked by rain. Lost. Stung by a bee. Of course there are more problems at the office, like liquid spilled on the keyboard and computer viruses. Then our hero arrives home and promptly spills red wine on the rug. Does this seem a bit contrived? It is. All this sh*t is simply the means by which Bentley can disgorge his vast knowledge. Along the way he offers a very brief discussion of the origin of water and similarly brief briefs on the immune system and the sense of pain. Nonetheless, the author is solid in his discussions of modern technology—cell phones, CDs, glues, dyes, springy (“air-filled’’) sneakers—and he even offers helpful tips (see wine stains, for example).

Filled with some good popular science, but to find it you have to wend through Bentley’s over-the-top idea of a really bad day.

Pub Date: March 3, 2009

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Rodale

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2009

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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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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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