Western environmentalists will find a fellow traveler in these pages, but one with a political agenda that not all will...

PALESTINIAN WALKS

NOTES ON A VANISHING LANDSCAPE

An often satisfying but sometimes off-putting blend of history, natural history and political pamphleteering from a Palestinian activist, attorney and writer.

“When I began hill walking in Palestine a quarter of a century ago,” writes Shehadeh (Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine, 2002, etc.), “I was not aware that I was traveling through a vanishing landscape.” Hills are, of course, good places from which to fire down on passersby below, which has been cause enough for Israel to establish fortifications and settlements on them, displacing Palestinians and introducing new Israeli townships into the West Bank. Shehadeh’s book takes the form of six alternately meditative and combative walks from 1978 to 2006, walks that limn the geography of a region that has long seen its share of ambulatory pilgrims. The author rightly objects to the carving up and walling of the hills from a conservationist’s point of view, and he could be writing of coastal California when he laments the damage caused by the development of yuppie enclaves full of IT workers. He has a fine eye for the details of just what is being damaged: the variegated, stony earth and its fountains; cedar forests; hyacinths, crocuses and canyons; the old geography of kin and neighbor; ancient waters such as the Dead Sea, which is becoming deader by the year. One wonders, however, whether the same sort of damage would not be occurring in an independent Palestine, with its exploding population and aspirations to prosperity, all of which tend to gnaw away at beautiful spots. It does not help his argument that Shehadeh rhetorically demonizes the Israeli state and its presumed master plan for the region with pat formulas, though the searching conversation he has with an Israeli settler at the end of the book—a conversation mediated by opiated hashish—suggests that civil discourse is possible and that more of it would go a long way toward saving the hill country.

Western environmentalists will find a fellow traveler in these pages, but one with a political agenda that not all will accept.

Pub Date: June 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4165-6966-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2008

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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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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