A rarefied and compelling study.




A dense, thoughtful study by a Mauritius-born native achieves the right distance from and intimacy with his subject.

While sharing enormous sympathies with the French language and culture, Hazareesingh (Politics/Balliol Coll., Oxford; The Legend of Napoleon; In the Shadow of the General, 2005, etc.) also maintains his academic reserve. In a series of scholarly essays, the author probes the intellectual currents that have fed that distinctive esprit français since the time of Louis XIV to the more pessimistic present. Indeed, the Grand Siècle saw not only the apotheosis of absolute monarchy at Versailles, dazzling intellectual salons, fashion, and cuisine, but also the epoch of Descartes, the philosopher who set out the rationalist tug of war between mind and matter, soul and thought that would plague and elate the French ever since. The author looks at how the writing of Descartes was appropriated by many different, conflicting parties over the centuries, from Christian to anticlerical to feminist, but celebrated as the “emblem of republican rationalism” that would triumph with the French Revolution. French thought is nothing if not contradictory, and while the Enlightenment thinking ushered in a “detached, skeptical and critical self,” Hazareesingh also emphasizes the long French flirtation with the occult and supernatural, culminating in President François Mitterrand’s obsession with astrological predictions. Fantasies of utopia, from Rousseau to Victor Hugo, dovetail nicely with the French proclivity for scientific inventiveness, precision, and accuracy, while the concepts of left and right that rupture French politics to this day are deeply rooted in the French Revolution. Naturally, the cult of Napoleon garners its own chapter. The new pessimism that the author attempts to articulate seems to emanate from France’s acute awareness of its slipping relevance in world influence—certainly next to the English language and American culture—and a deep anxiety over immigration and its ruling elite.

A rarefied and compelling study.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-465-03249-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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


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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