Flaws aside, the book is worth perusing, primarily for its keen analysis of why the Democrats have come up short in recent...

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RENDEZVOUS WITH OBLIVION

ESSAYS

A liberal commentator offers his scathing take on contemporary American politics and culture.

One of the results of the shocking election of Donald Trump has been the political commentariat’s reassessment of the state of the nation. In that vein, Frank (Listen, Liberal, 2016, etc.), a former columnist for the Wall Street Journal and Harper’s and founding editor of the Baffler, assembles a series of essays that originally appeared in various publications from 2011 to 2018. The essays, asserts the author in his introduction, “all aim to tell one essential story”: the dissolution of the common bonds of American society as the rich and powerful accumulate more power and the rest of the citizenry is forgotten. Frank proceeds to paint a dystopian picture of struggling fast-food workers, greedy colleges and universities, and politicians’ disregard for the common folk, all culminating in the election of Trump, “the very personification of this low, dishonest age.” To his credit, the liberal author (he supported Bernie Sanders in 2016) acknowledges Trump’s appeal to the working-class and rural voters whom Democratic Party elites have all but abandoned. Moreover, several of his arguments should resonate with Americans of all political stripes. Is there any doubt, for example, that a factor in the skyrocketing cost of a college education is “the insane proliferation of university administrators”? Yet Frank’s analysis is occasionally faulty, as when he writes that Barack Obama, whose administration added as much as $9 trillion to the national debt, made a “turn to austerity” following a “brief experiment with deficit spending.” While the author’s essay on modern colleges and universities is mostly spot-on, he doesn’t acknowledge the role that federal student loans have played in the outrageous rise in tuition he so rightly laments.

Flaws aside, the book is worth perusing, primarily for its keen analysis of why the Democrats have come up short in recent election cycles. The party’s powers that be would be wise to read up.

Pub Date: June 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-29366-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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