A remarkably exhaustive account of one of the 20th century’s—and perhaps the 21st century’s as well—most impactful...




A book offers a comprehensive tour of the history of socialism.

In the last U.S. presidential election, Bernie Sanders, a Democratic candidate, openly described himself as a socialist, sparking controversy over the contemporary meaning of the term. Bryson (The Economics of Henry George, 2011, etc.) slowly unravels the developmental spool of socialism, tracing its origin and ascendancy, its theoretical repudiation and practical collapse with the demise of the Soviet Union, and a kind of resurgent reinterpretation in contemporary America. The book divides into three main sections—in the first, a philosophical history of socialism is supplied that traces its moral core back to biblical theology, ancient Greek thought, and idealistic utopianism. With Marx, that utopianism takes on the patina of science and becomes a revolutionary attempt to eliminate private property as well as an entire class of people. Bryson also examines the view of Adam Smith and ably illuminates the moral core of it, a defense of human liberty. In the second section, the author limns the rise of socialism as it took root in Eastern and Western Europe, China, and, of course, the Soviet Union. The treatment of the Soviet experiment in communism is a highlight of the book and demonstrates that a “second economy” necessarily emerged, an underground free market of exchange demanded by the system’s resounding failures to meet its citizens’ needs. The last section details the insinuation of socialist ideas into the U.S., a nation in many ways inoculated against an unabashed embrace of them. As in Western Europe, socialism in America doesn’t necessarily mean the end of free markets but rather the establishment of a welfare state and aggressive redistribution of income and property. The scope of Bryson’s treatment is dizzying, the erudition nearly unbelievable, and his scholarly rigor impressive. But even in a book that reaches nearly 850 pages, one can still expect some depth to be sacrificed on the altar of thoroughness. For example, Hegel’s ontology of history, a crucial philosophical influence for Marx, is given only a handful of quick paragraphs. In the main, however, this is a magisterial work, encyclopedic and astute.

A remarkably exhaustive account of one of the 20th century’s—and perhaps the 21st century’s as well—most impactful ideologies.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5144-1460-6

Page Count: 944

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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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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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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