HOPE IN THE DARK

UNTOLD HISTORIES, WILD POSSIBILITIES

A pamphlet more than a sustained analysis—but progressives can always use a good cheerleader.

Writer/activist Solnit (Wanderlust: A History of Walking, 2000, etc.) argues that things are not as bad as they seem for the Left.

“Born the summer the Berlin Wall went up,” the author reminds us that in 1961 the Cold War seemed never-ending, civil rights for African-Americans a long way off, equal pay for women laughable, and laws to protect the environment a fantasy. “We are not who we were not very long ago,” she asserts; the Left has won more victories than it remembers, and new ways of organizing and thinking can build on them. It's true, Solnit acknowledges, that the massive peace marches in the spring of 2003 failed to stop the Bush administration from invading Iraq, but the movement's democratic, essentially leaderless, Internet-based organizing drew on strengths that were formed during the 1994 Zapatista uprising of indigenous peoples in Mexico (on the day that NAFTA went into effect), demonstrations against the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, and the conflict at the September 2003 WTO talks in Cancún, which collapsed when representatives of the globe's impoverished nations walked out rather than make further concessions to free trade. This kind of activism rejects the late-’60s New Left's apocalyptic extremism: either you change the world or you've failed. Change also comes in increments, Solnit avers: “This is earth. It will never be heaven.” Writing with her customary elegance, the author embodies the most attractive features of undogmatic turn-of-the-millennium progressivism. She's short on concrete solutions, and when she approvingly quotes her brother's contention that “the notion of capturing positions of power . . . misses the point that the aim of revolution is to fundamentally change the relations of power,” battered survivors of the government repression that decimated both the Old and New Left may find her naïve. Then again, who thought Nelson Mandela would ever leave Robbins Island?

A pamphlet more than a sustained analysis—but progressives can always use a good cheerleader.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-56025-577-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Nation Books

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2004

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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