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

HOPE IN THE DARK

UNTOLD HISTORIES, WILD POSSIBILITIES

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2004

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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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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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