A dense history that may lose readers not versed in Russian history, but for students and scholars, Plokhy continues to show...




A timely work of impeccable research that elucidates the Russian impulse toward regaining lost lands under a powerful myth of origins.

With Russia having recently moved aggressively into Ukraine and Crimea, the history of Russian nationalism is worth revisiting. In this deeply detailed history, Plokhy (Director, Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard Univ.; The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, 2015, etc.) recognizes 15th-century ruler Ivan III as the self-declared scion to “all Rus” lands, retaken after challenging the Mongol khans. Ivan also made the first connection as heir to Byzantium by marrying the niece of the last Byzantine emperor. Ivan declared his sovereignty over the lands of Mongol Rus, which included not only Moscow, but extended to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. As the Orthodox Church consolidated its holdings, Ukraine and Belarus were incorporated into the Commonwealth, instigating the terminology “Great” and “Little” Rus, while “ ‘White Rus’ (Belarus) was added to the tsar’s title in 1655.” These reflected the political upheavals in the region and gave the Muscovy elite the first sense of themselves as a true nation. Peter the Great’s victory at Poltava in 1709, as well as subsequent victories, helped him to control “the national discourse, with its emphasis on the fatherland, the nation, and the common good.” Indeed, in 1721, he received the appellations “All-Russian Emperor” and “Father of the Fatherland.” Plokhy pursues the flimsy cohesion of this “tripartite nation” over the subsequent centuries, as Ukraine’s sense of selfhood and distinct language emerged primarily in the mid-19th century, challenging the official Russian version of nation and state. During the Revolution of 1917, Vladimir Lenin, unlike Stalin, rejected the “great-power chauvinism” of a Russian Federation of states. Lenin was in favor of allowing Ukraine to branch off as a distinct entity, while Stalin’s subsequent “indigenization policy” was soon reversed as it collided with political repression.

A dense history that may lose readers not versed in Russian history, but for students and scholars, Plokhy continues to show that he is the master of this terrain.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-465-09849-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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