Prothero brilliantly shows how the same groups drive conflicts year after year and often lose—and how the results eventually...

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WHY LIBERALS WIN THE CULTURE WARS (EVEN WHEN THEY LOSE ELECTIONS)

THE BATTLES THAT DEFINE AMERICA FROM JEFFERSON'S HERESIES TO GAY MARRIAGE

Prothero (Religion/Boston Univ.; The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation, 2012, etc.) gives hope to liberals who think conservatives are taking over.

The author shows how today’s hyperpartisanship is a byproduct of the culture wars. Conservatives disproportionately fire the first shot but often flame out. Prothero focuses on culture rather than race and on tolerance, inclusion, and pluralism. Still, the specters of the Civil War and slavery play a large part in culture wars, with sides still drawn along the North-South divide, and the author examines four particular conflicts in our history: the presidential election of 1800, anti-Catholicism, anti-Mormonism, and Prohibition. The fight between John Adams’ Federalists and Thomas Jefferson’s Republicans was just the beginning of the current rancor in politics. Anti-Catholicism began during the 1830s, with attackers using faith as a proxy for character. As slavery eased anti-Catholicism, it was the Mormons’ turn, but Stephen Douglas argued against government interference in the “peculiar institutions” of the Mormons’ polygamy and of the South’s slavery. Then came the 18th Amendment and Prohibition; it was the first amendment to limit personal liberty and was happily repealed with the coming of the Depression. As Prothero shows, all of these conflicts were contests between homogeneity and diversity. Conservatives usually strive to preserve their way of life, while liberals cite the Bill of Rights and seek to progress. The cycle repeats itself: the right strikes, the left responds, there is accommodation, and liberals often win with a new consensus. As a way forward, the author counsels to “listen a little less to Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher and a little more to Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy, to realize that our cultural contests need not be life-or-death battles between patriots and traitors.”

Prothero brilliantly shows how the same groups drive conflicts year after year and often lose—and how the results eventually make us stronger. Useful, instructive reading for all voters in the upcoming election year.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-157129-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: HarperOne

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

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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