No ease anywhere, but the text conveys a dreamlike sense of standing outside oneself and observing that keeps things from...

MY LIFE HAD STOOD A LOADED GUN

ADOLESCENTS AT THE APOCALYPSE: A TEACHER’S NOTES

An unsettling account of trying to connect with inmates at a Vermont jail through a literature class.

A deeply unhappy graduate student seeking something beyond “a relatively narrow, officially approved life with officially approvable people,” newcomer Padnos in 1999 stakes a claim at the ratty world of the Woodstock Regional Correctional Facility, a waystation for those awaiting trial. Inmates don’t flock to his basement classroom, but there is a slow accrual of interest from the men, many of them quite young, who have been accused of committing unspeakable crimes. These crimes will be spoken of in grim detail that nearly makes a reader want to turn away in dread. But it is through their circumstances that Padnos comes to profile the students who sit in his classroom, where menace hangs in the air with greater weight than the words of Walt Whitman or Stephen King. Though he often hears the inmates’ stories through a prism of suspicion—trust appears to be a word with little application here—the author tries to keep jadedness at bay. The stories voice the men’s longings, he knows, even if those longings are apocalyptic in nature and substance. Padnos wants his students to find some reverb with the material, to stitch it together with what motivated their acts and what they had hoped to achieve by them: “The goal was to jerk them out of their routine, to help them see their lives with the clarity of an observer.” Often enough, this leads them deeper into the desperate. Huck Finn may be a universal icon, but what strikes home at Woodstock is the cold comfort of a Denis Johnson story. “Their lives have been rich in sorrow and strangeness,” Padnos writes of his students. “They’re wealthy at least in these departments.”

No ease anywhere, but the text conveys a dreamlike sense of standing outside oneself and observing that keeps things from getting too scary.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-7868-6909-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2003

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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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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