A master scholar delivers a delightfully stimulating historical polemic.




A stern, thoroughly satisfying harangue on the realities of politics in the United States by the veteran, prizewinning historian.

Wilentz (American History/Princeton Univ.; Bob Dylan in America, 2010, etc.) emphasizes that two key factors of politics, ignored by lesser historians, are essential. The first—sure to jolt even educated readers—is that partisanship and party politics are essential to effective government. The Founding Fathers deplored it, and today’s presidential candidates assure us that they detest career politicians. Reformers denounce them, and Americans “want government conducted in a lofty manner, without adversarial confrontation and chaos. But more than two hundred years of antipartisanship has produced nothing,” writes the author. “This is because, despite their intentions, the framers built a political system which inspired partisan politics.” The second factor—less controversial but no less surprising—is that Americans hate economic privilege. Everyone agrees that vast material inequality threatens democracy. The author argues that the fight for racial and sexual equality during the 1960s and ’70s made that period an anomaly, and the conservative swing begun by President Ronald Reagan obscured it, but it returned with a vengeance after the economic crash of 2008. Conservatives today place less emphasis on moral arguments for a free market in favor of claiming that cutting taxes and government will provide jobs and eliminate poverty. Never shy about scolding colleagues, Wilentz maintains that the vogue of denigrating Thomas Jefferson has gone overboard, but he joins in the revival of the reputations of Thomas Paine and Lyndon Johnson. The author deplores the current fashion for giving idealistic outsiders credit for forcing crass politicians to do the right thing. Abolitionists did not compel Abraham Lincoln to promote emancipation, and Johnson supported civil rights long before he took office.

A master scholar delivers a delightfully stimulating historical polemic.

Pub Date: May 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-28502-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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


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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