An engrossing and often heartbreaking look at a singular attempt to achieve some measure of racial equality in the U.S.

SOUL CITY

RACE, EQUALITY, AND THE LOST DREAM OF AN AMERICAN UTOPIA

An in-depth account of the rise and fall of Soul City, North Carolina, designed to be a new city focused on racial equality.

Healy, a law professor and North Carolina native, provides a comprehensive history of the town, proposed for an area “in the middle of what one roadside billboard boldly proclaimed ‘Klan Country.’ ” Introduced in 1969 by civil rights leader Floyd McKissick (1922-1991), Soul City was meant to be “a new kind of city, one with a stronger sense of community, a deeper regard for the well-being of others, and a more egalitarian distribution of wealth. He also hoped to incorporate the latest innovations in social policy and urban design, boasting that Soul City would be ‘a showpiece of democracy in a sea of hypocrisy.’ ” Throughout this deft historical narrative, the author provides useful context and perspective about the civil rights movement and the lives of the key players in the venture, including McKissick, the government officials who opposed it (one was Jesse Helms, who “had little enthusiasm for the kind of federal programs supporting Soul City, and even less enthusiasm for the project’s goal of racial uplift”), the journalists who reported on it, and the people who lived there. Healy ably delineates the complex process of creating a city from scratch, which involved promotion, fundraising, grueling bureaucracy and political attacks, and attempting to convincing people and businesses to relocate to the proposed city—not to mention the devastating series of articles in the Raleigh News & Observer alleging fraud and corruption on the part of McKissick. Charting this significant but overlooked piece of modern American history, the author’s intent “is not to assign blame. It is to understand the forces that lead to its failure and the lessons it offers for the pursuit of racial equality today.” On that note, the author succeeds admirably.

An engrossing and often heartbreaking look at a singular attempt to achieve some measure of racial equality in the U.S.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-62779-862-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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