A thoughtfully provocative anthology.




Romm (MFA Program/Warren Wilson Coll.; The Mercy Papers: A Memoir of Three Weeks, 2009, etc.) gathers essays by successful women about the meaning of ambition in their lives.

In this collection, women from professions as varied as teaching, writing, acting, butchering, and dog sledding discuss “the double bind” of female ambition. While many among them have desired success, ambition has been accompanied by ambivalence regarding “impulses and actions…that felt less pretty or tidy than the façade they wanted to project.” Clinical psychologist and professor Yael Chatav Schonbrun, for example, focuses on the sacrifices she made to be a researcher and mother. “The concepts of ‘ambitious’ and ‘part time’ seem to be a schematic mismatch,” she writes, an idea political science professor Elizabeth Corey echoes in her essay, “No Happy Harmony.” For her, the work/life double bind for women gives rise to a “conflict in the soul [that] does not go away.” Writer Ayana Mathis discusses how, as a black woman, being ambitious is not just a matter of “leaning in.” It is about learning how to navigate success that is not a given because of her social and ethnic identity. Actress Molly Ringwald reveals how outspokenness about her desire for stardom garnered criticism to “know [her] place.” Hollywood ageism ultimately limited her acting ambitions but also freed her to pursue other interests. By contrast, former magazine editor Camas Davis learned butchery out of a need to reinvent herself after job loss. The fact that “no one had ever bothered to…assess [her] skills,” however, made Davis feel like an imposter who could not fully embrace her eventual notoriety. Musher Blair Braverman’s relationship to ambition came as a surprise. She writes that although she started out as a dog handler, a desire to win races in a male-dominated sport invigorated her. Romm’s collection, which also includes contributions from Roxane Gay, Francine Prose, and others, is a welcome addition to the discourse on a topic that rarely receives the kind of honest and wide-ranging consideration these essays offer.

A thoughtfully provocative anthology.

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1631491214

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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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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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