As with all of Johnson’s work, a highly readable, deeply researched look into a little-explored corner of history.

ENEMY OF ALL MANKIND

A TRUE STORY OF PIRACY, POWER, AND HISTORY'S FIRST GLOBAL MANHUNT

The logo of modern capitalism isn’t properly the dollar sign but instead the skull and crossbones.

Wide-ranging as always, Johnson, author of such bestsellers as Everything Bad Is Good for You and How We Got to Now, locates the origins of our current dog-eat-dog economic condition in the actions of a flotilla of 17th-century pirates. Led by a mutineer named Henry Every, six ships converged at the mouth of the Red Sea, just where modern pirates gather today, to raid the fleets of the declining Mughal Empire. They attacked one huge ship that had the misfortune of having a cannon misfire even as a lucky shot from the pirate fleet took down the main mast. Aboard was a fortune in diamonds—and a harem that the pirates, as might be expected, treated as their own. The attack set in motion a number of things. For one, the British East India Company, sensing weakness, moved to secure a foothold in India while thwarting Parliament’s regulatory efforts to weaken the power of that early corporation. For its part, the British government declared Every and company to be enemies of mankind to be killed upon sight. Every disappeared, but some of his shipmates were not so fortunate. Johnson writes with vigor and evident fascination for Every and his exploits—that foundational mutiny, for instance, “one of those rare moments from history where we can re-create an almost second-by-second account of the actions.” His equation of their “radical dream of economic and political liberation” with the behavior of modern moguldom is arguable, but the predatory, sociopathic nature of the pirates is surely not. This makes it ever stranger that Every, now almost unknown, should have been a rock star in his day, and especially in a media-innocent time when brigands such as Walter Ralegh and Edward Teach commanded much public notice.

As with all of Johnson’s work, a highly readable, deeply researched look into a little-explored corner of history.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1160-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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

NIGHT

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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