Armchair historians who can tolerate Waldman’s occasional stylistic indulgences—e.g., dramatic single-sentence paragraphs,...




An energetic pop history surveys America’s commitments to religious liberty from the 17th century to the present.

As journalist and Beliefnet co-founder Waldman (Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America, 2008, etc.) shows, whatever you may have learned in elementary school about the Puritans, the Colonies were hardly bastions of religious freedom; in fact, using executions and arrests, English leaders harshly enforced various ecclesial establishments. It wasn’t until the American Revolution that the Founding Fathers crafted norms of religious liberty. James Madison is the star of Waldman’s account; Thomas Jefferson shows up for his 1801 use of the phrase “wall of separation between Church & State,” but the author pays too little attention to his important role in pushing for religious toleration in revolutionary Virginia. The late-18th- and early-19th-century articulations of religious freedom were the true beginning of the story. In the decades that followed, many groups, including Catholics, Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, prodded the nation to further embody its ideals of religious liberty. As late as 1942, Franklin Roosevelt opined that America was “a Protestant country and the Catholics and Jews are here under sufferance.” Indeed, as Waldman’s especially helpful discussion of the post–World War II landscape demonstrates, the 1940s brought a new push for interfaith understanding—Amy Vanderbilt’s etiquette guide included a chapter on it—as a sort of generic, pluralist faith was marshalled as a counter to communism. The 1940s also saw the Supreme Court taking a more expanded role defining religious freedom; in earlier decades, argues the author, the shape of religious liberty was largely left up to local governments. Turning to the present, Waldman suggests how anti-Islamic sentiment among non-Muslim Americans provides a way of assessing the reach and the limits of America’s commitment to religious pluralism.

Armchair historians who can tolerate Waldman’s occasional stylistic indulgences—e.g., dramatic single-sentence paragraphs, breathless ellipses, lengthy block quotes—will be rewarded with an informative account.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-274314-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: HarperOne

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 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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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

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