A sometimes-overheated but eminently readable contribution to political discourse.

THE PEOPLE, NO

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ANTI-POPULISM

Political commentator Frank tries to reclaim populism from the Trumpites and tea partiers.

“I hate the common masses and avoid them.” So said Roman poet Horace centuries ago. Best known for his 2004 polemic What’s the Matter With Kansas?—Kansas being the birthplace of a left-agrarian populist movement of old—Frank conversely urges his readers, likely to be among the urban elite, from dismissing those folks in flyover country who, given one person and one vote, are presumed likely to make poor choices: “If you give them half a chance, they will go out and vote for a charlatan like Donald Trump.” Since its emergence as a political force in the U.S. in the 19th century, populism has always been dismissed as a refuge of the stupid or lunatic, the purview of con artists and bigots. Yet, the author argues, populism is not just an old American way of doing politics, but fundamentally a progressive one as well, uniquely concerned for the well-being of workers. Trump managed to parlay his putative commitment to those workers into votes. However, notes Frank, he is definitively an autocrat and not a populist, who made promises of “populist-style reform, none of them sincere,” that sounded good enough to enough voters to launch him into an office won by that least populist of institutions, the Electoral College. “How does it help us, I wonder, to deliberately devalue the coinage of the American reform tradition?” asks Frank, who encourages his readers to imagine that the matter of most pressing importance in the political landscape today is economic justice for the vast majority of people who have been overlooked by supposed progress—to say nothing of both political parties. The author lays on the indignation a little too thick at times, but it’s a convincing case all the same.

A sometimes-overheated but eminently readable contribution to political discourse.

Pub Date: July 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-22011-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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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