A timely, engaging history of the United States from a progressive professor’s point of view.


America’s “common history,” shared by liberals and conservatives alike, as seen through the battles and accomplishments of the American left.

Despite the immortal words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” many of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence held slaves. Many believed, in the words of James Madison, that “the better sort of people” should govern, and only Federalist property-holding men should have the right to vote. They also had a tough time dealing with what constituted a person. In a series of essays, Ericksen convincingly argues that, since 1776, progressive, not conservative, politics have had the upper hand in reducing the “hypocrisy” of our founding fathers by bringing rights “closer to reality” for the poor, women, African-Americans, immigrants and LGBT persons. Historically, conservatives have tended to limit equality and fairness for all, while liberals have advocated for “the two principles vital to American democracy”: equal protection and separation of church and state. Ericksen breaks down the landmark accomplishments (FDA, FDIC, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) that occurred during the three major periods of progressive change: from Jefferson to Jackson, Teddy to Franklin Roosevelt and Johnson’s Great Society. In a nation where “a portion of the American public has lost its mind,” respecting the laws of the free market and the laws of God above those passed by their own government, Ericksen explains how the Bible and Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” merged to supersede democracy and create the altar of American capitalism, as well as worker exploitation, monopolization, “socialism for the rich,” today’s tea party and our current government stalemate. Despite his hyperbolic title (used effectively throughout the book as a refrain and a “watchword,” Ericksen writes in a measured tone with thoughtful commentary backed up by a scholarly sway. The author fails to mention gray areas: Nixon pushing for comprehensive health reform, Clinton signing the Defense of Marriage Act (or his wife, as senator, voting to greenlight the war in Iraq). What might have come off as merely preaching, becomes teaching to the choir. Every once in awhile, all good choirs need to reassess and update their hymnals. Ericksen’s essays provide sufficient inspiration.

A timely, engaging history of the United States from a progressive professor’s point of view.

Pub Date: July 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1477539248

Page Count: 188

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2012

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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

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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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