A wide-ranging, irreverent, and absorbing meditation on thinking, knowing, and being.



What are we? That question informs the author’s fertile inquiry into mind, brain, and imagination.

Taking the perspective of “a perpetual outsider who looks in on several disciplines,” Hustvedt (Psychiatry/Weill Medical School; The Blazing World, 2014, etc.) gathers recent essays and talks on the intellectual topics that have long occupied her: art and perception, the mind/body conundrum, madness, consciousness, memory, and empathy. She organizes these pieces into three sections: “A Woman Looking at Men Looking At Women,” which considers the works of Picasso, Koons, and Louise Bourgeois; an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe photographs curated by filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar; Wim Wender’s homage to choreographer Pina Bausch; and the author’s experience teaching writing to mental patients and undergoing psychoanalysis herself. The second and third sections, “Delusions of Certainty” and “What Are We?” consider more directly issues of mind and consciousness: “What is a person, a self? Is there a self? What is a mind? Is a mind different from a brain?” Hustvedt feels decidedly unsatisfied by the results of fMRI investigations that map brain activity during such events as reading or looking at art. That research, she maintains, “reflects a simplistic correspondence between a psychological state…and its neural correlates, without much thought about further meanings or the philosophical issues involved.” Nor does she have patience for the assertions of neo-Darwinists—Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker comes in for repeated criticism—who “justify why things are the way they are” by privileging nature over nurture and insisting that certain traits (men being better at mathematics than women, for example) are “rooted in biology.” Hustvedt draws upon—and presents with sharp clarity—a prodigious number of sources, including Kierkegaard (whom she first read when she was 15), William James, Kant, George Lakoff (for his investigation of metaphors), physicist Niels Bohr, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, and 17th-century scientist Margaret Cavendish, “an adamant materialist” who took issue with Descartes’ mind/body dualism, as does Hustvedt.

A wide-ranging, irreverent, and absorbing meditation on thinking, knowing, and being.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-4109-6

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

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?