More an annals than a biography.

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ROGER NASH BALDWIN AND THE AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION

A rather dreary life of one of the lions of the American left.

Cottrell (History/California State Univ.; Izzy, 1992) specializes in the radical and reform movements that proliferated in America during the first two-thirds of the 20th century. His subject here, Roger Nash Baldwin (founder and longtime head of the ACLU), came into contact with almost all such movements at one time or another. A Boston Brahmin and Harvard graduate, Baldwin moved to St. Louis and began his career as a Progressive and a social worker. During WWI his work with conscientious objectors drew him to civil liberties and gave birth to the ACLU. The next 30 years saw Baldwin, like many on the left, flirt with communism and then swing fervently back to anticommunist liberalism. He lived out his very long life as a public intellectual, working at the UN and advising on ACLU policies until he reached his mid-90s. The author points out—over and over again—that Baldwin’s life and career were marked by a fundamental contradiction between his aristocratic (often autocratic) ways and the liberal (often radical) causes that he supported. Baldwin fervently believed both that the ACLU’s membership should be elite and that all problems could be settled by a face-to-face chat between well-educated men—a view that made him look horribly naïve in his dealings with J. Edgar Hoover, among others. Cottrell also convincingly points out that Baldwin was disingenuous at best about the extent of his involvement with the Communist Party. But Cottrell never really gets down to any kind of insightful analysis; instead there are pages upon pages of alphabet soup, where the attendees of countless meetings held by acronymed leftist organizations are listed. Most glaringly, the author completely sidesteps the issue of Baldwin’s possible homosexuality—while noting the “rumors,” the two “unconventional” marriages he entered into, and the suicides of two of the young men that Baldwin habitually “adopted.”

More an annals than a biography.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-231-11972-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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 author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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