An informed, important exposé of the nation’s institutionalized racism that would have been even more reader-friendly with...



How government policies have perpetuated the caste system of slavery.

Rothstein (Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right, 2008, etc.), a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute and a fellow at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, mounts a hard-hitting argument condemning federal, state, and local governments for devising laws that enforce segregation. Underserved, blighted African-American communities, he argues persuasively, are not the result only of personal prejudice or market forces but of unconstitutional “racially explicit government policies to segregate our metropolitan areas.” The author cites cases and decisions regarding public housing, racial zoning, mortgage lending, the enforcement of housing covenants, fearmongering to incite white flight, planning for highways and roads, IRS tax-exemption status for institutions that promote segregation, state-sanctioned violence, and the effects of segregation on schools and income disparity. Although he sometimes refers to particular individuals, his main focus is on law and public policy affecting neighborhoods. In 1949, for example, when a proposed integration amendment to a public housing law threatened to be defeated by Southern Democrats, liberals caved, voting for a program that stipulated segregation rather than giving up the possibility of much-needed public housing. State supreme courts consistently upheld restrictive real estate covenants that forbade sales of homes to African-Americans, claiming that such “private agreements” did not violate the Constitution. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that restrictive covenants did, indeed, violate the 14th Amendment, the Federal Housing Administration continued to deny mortgage insurance to homes in integrated neighborhoods. After World War II, the GI Bill denied African-Americans mortgage subsidies and opportunities for education and training that were available to whites. Rothstein considers the insidious effects of housing segregation on economic mobility, infrastructure, and politics. “Racial polarization,” he asserts, bolsters leaders who appeal to white voters’ “sense of racial entitlement” and who foster intolerance.

An informed, important exposé of the nation’s institutionalized racism that would have been even more reader-friendly with the inclusion of more individual case histories.

Pub Date: May 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63149-285-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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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,...


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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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