A thoughtful, often engaging account of a philosophically vital life, but overburdened with mundane details.

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CONNECTING THE DOTS

A SOCIAL WORK ACADEMICIAN'S MEMOIR OF INTELLECTUAL AND CAREER DEVELOPMENT

Caputo’s (Social Policy and Research/Yeshiva Univ.; Policy Analysis for Social Workers, 2014, etc.) memoir chronicles his intellectual development, as well as his career in social work and the academy. 

The author was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, as one of eight children. Although neither of his parents graduated from college—and his mother never finished high school—they encouraged him in his academic pursuits, and he eventually earned a doctorate in the history of social welfare from the University of Chicago. The author’s self-described “intellectual biography” charts several different trajectories of his personal development. For example, until his early college years, Caputo considered himself a “devout Catholic” but gradually adopted a spiritual version of “secular humanism,” influenced by such thinkers as Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and 19th-century philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach. Nevertheless, he remained true to values that he sees as being at the core of Christianity—the individual dignity of each person, the universal humanity that binds us all together, and the responsibility to help those in need. The author worked as a social worker and as an academic, always looking for ways to balance his activism and advocacy with his commitment to research. He reveals how even his intellectual life attested to the tension between praxis and theory, as he was always looking to achieve “better balance between impartial scholar and public intellectual” in order to become a better “academic citizen.” Throughout this memoir, Caputo shows notable philosophical breadth, and he intelligently discusses a broad spectrum of topics, including welfare policy, caregiving, the implementation of a basic income guarantee, compassionate conservatism, and Allan Bloom’s landmark 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind. His enthusiasm for his work is obvious and infectious, and he truly seems happy doing “what I do best, namely conceptualize issues, read books, and teach students.” Also, he openly discusses his various frustrations over the course of this remembrance—not only with specific social policies, but also with his own occupation. He admits, for instance, that writing never came easy to him, despite the fact that he was prolific, and that, at one point, he fretted that he “had exhausted my intellectual and scholarly potential.” However, this book buries the reader in needlessly granular detail about such topics as the various schools the author went to, the classes he took and taught, the positions he held, and the books and articles he wrote; as a result, his memoir often reads like a narrated curriculum vitae. (It concludes with an appendix of publications and conference presentations.) He also quotes his own journals at great length; he even comments, in his diary, that he should become a more faithful diarist. One can’t help but wish that he’d written more about the novel that he once worked on, or about his self-described “disco-driven pothead social life in the mid-1970s”—which he discreetly withholds from the reader to avoid “embarrassment.”

A thoughtful, often engaging account of a philosophically vital life, but overburdened with mundane details.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4808-5292-1

Page Count: 514

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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