A rewarding account that supports the adage that what’s past is prologue.



Americans of a century ago were much like those of today, facing an uncertain future while trying to make sense of the present.

In the late 1920s, behavioral scientists Settersten, Elder, and Pearce recount, an enterprising psychologist at the Berkeley Institute of Child Welfare formulated a longitudinal study that would take a sample of those born between 1885 and 1908—the “1900 generation”—and track them and their children throughout their lives. By 1929, about 200 couples living in the Berkeley area were involved. “Foreign birth stood out as the most pervasive cultural feature of the couples’ family backgrounds,” the authors write, with only a third having two parents born in the U.S. Being foreign-born often entailed certain social and economic disadvantages, especially if the foreign-born person was from southern Europe and Catholic. Still, some of today’s verities held then. Education, for example, was a key predictor of economic success in a time when economic inequality was becoming more pronounced. Interestingly, the authors write, the Depression affected people of different educational and economic backgrounds differently. Middle-class and professional workers were often furloughed for one day of the week and welcomed the chance to spend the extra time with their families, discovering that the loss of income was also matched by a decline in consumer prices, whereas working-class people carried a more difficult burden. “The good times made their hard times more difficult to bear,” the authors write of working-class men, and the hard times were worse, so that the setbacks of the Depression left a “deep imprint on their life records.” Most were uplifted economically by the booming war economy, though of course many had sons who served in combat. They often felt tremendous social change that was continuing to accelerate, reminding us, the authors write sagely, that “our lives are not our own but are embedded in family relationships and interactions that shape us.”

A rewarding account that supports the adage that what’s past is prologue.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-226-74812-2

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.


A former NFL player casts his gimlet eye on American race relations.

In his first book, Acho, an analyst for Fox Sports who grew up in Dallas as the son of Nigerian immigrants, addresses White readers who have sent him questions about Black history and culture. “My childhood,” he writes, “was one big study abroad in white culture—followed by studying abroad in black culture during college and then during my years in the NFL, which I spent on teams with 80-90 percent black players, each of whom had his own experience of being a person of color in America. Now, I’m fluent in both cultures: black and white.” While the author avoids condescending to readers who already acknowledge their White privilege or understand why it’s unacceptable to use the N-word, he’s also attuned to the sensitive nature of the topic. As such, he has created “a place where questions you may have been afraid to ask get answered.” Acho has a deft touch and a historian’s knack for marshaling facts. He packs a lot into his concise narrative, from an incisive historical breakdown of American racial unrest and violence to the ways of cultural appropriation: Your friend respecting and appreciating Black arts and culture? OK. Kim Kardashian showing off her braids and attributing her sense of style to Bo Derek? Not so much. Within larger chapters, the text, which originated with the author’s online video series with the same title, is neatly organized under helpful headings: “Let’s rewind,” “Let’s get uncomfortable,” “Talk it, walk it.” Acho can be funny, but that’s not his goal—nor is he pedaling gotcha zingers or pleas for headlines. The author delivers exactly what he promises in the title, tackling difficult topics with the depth of an engaged cultural thinker and the style of an experienced wordsmith. Throughout, Acho is a friendly guide, seeking to sow understanding even if it means risking just a little discord.

This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-80046-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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