A welcome though overly broad-brushed excoriation of the age of the ascendant 1 percent.



Working men and women died for the eight-hour workday, and the thanks they get is the silence of lambs.

It wasn’t long ago, writes labor historian Fraser (Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life, 2005, etc.), that “the labor question” was a matter of incendiary discussion. The 19th century saw countless efforts, for instance, to create a balance of industrial and agricultural enterprise, many of them based on a post-Jeffersonian notion of empowered freeholders and independent producers. The market economy that emerged instead was likely to beget inequality and poverty, before “the antiseptic, mathematical language of risk assessment and probability analysis made that seem overly sentimental.” Taking his narrative through the Jeffersonian era and the first Gilded Age to the present, Fraser charts a steady diminution of workers’ rights and the value of labor. He can be a little heavy-handed, especially when pillorying Ronald Reagan: “the Great Communicator’s reign…unleashed torrents of mercenary greed.” Some readers may find this off-putting, but others, used to a diet of Chris Hedges, may well find it exhilarating instead. Fraser’s careful analysis of the rise of the “rentier society” of that time helps make up for rhetorical excess, and especially useful is his look at how the anti-usury laws of old gave way to a time of financial deregulation, which allowed for an all-out assault on the wallets of those who lived on credit. And surely Fraser is right when he notes the damaging effects of false consciousness, as when even the labor movement insists on being seen as representing the middle class “in a studied aversion to using a social category—the working class—that fits it well but is now so stigmatized that it is better left buried.”

A welcome though overly broad-brushed excoriation of the age of the ascendant 1 percent.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-0316185431

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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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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