A wholly satisfying, likely definitive, but not triumphalist account of the end of an era.




In this thoughtful re-evaluation of a stunning historical watershed, British Soviet specialist Service (Emeritus, Russian History/Univ. of Oxford; Trotsky, 2009, etc.) concentrates on the political maneuvering that was Byzantine and often wrongheaded but rarely dull.

In 1985, the Soviet Union’s elderly leaders knew that their backward economy was incapable of maintaining its superpower status. That year, Mikhail Gorbachev assumed power, vowing to change matters. His initial efforts produced deep suspicion in the United States, but Service writes that Ronald Reagan dreaded nuclear war far more than most advisers and led the way. From this point, the author offers an engrossing description of three years during which Reagan and Gorbachev led negotiations that vastly reduced the threat of war. Almost everyone approved of this course of action. Sadly, by 1988, Gorbachev’s liberal reforms had not revived the Soviet Union but reawakened nationalist, anti-Russian, and often nasty ethnic feeling, and his already moribund economy continued to decline rapidly. Exhilarated at the success of the U.S., American leaders delivered free-market platitudes but little aid in response to Gorbachev’s pleas. “Neither Reagan nor Bush,” writes the author, “was minded to bail him out—their priority was to secure international stability and America’s global primacy and they could see no benefit in subsidizing Moscow’s doomed economic reform. Behind the friendly façade of successive summits there lay American toughness in laying down the terms for conciliation.” Of course, in 1991, the Soviet Union disintegrated. Service emphasizes that victory over the Soviets was a good thing, but it was not a good thing to rub their nose in it. These days, Russians dislike America more than they did under Leonid Brezhnev and mostly approve of their pugnacious autocrat, Vladimir Putin, who aims to re-establish his nation as a major power and possesses the nuclear weapons to back this up.

A wholly satisfying, likely definitive, but not triumphalist account of the end of an era.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61039-499-4

Page Count: 656

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

Did you like this book?