THE THOMAS SOWELL READER

“Ideology is fairy tales for adults.” Thus writes economist and conservative maven Sowell in a best-of volume shot through with…ideology.

Though he resists easy categorization, the author has been associated with hard-libertarian organizations and think tanks such as the Hoover Institution for most of his long working life. Here he picks from his numerous writings, which have the consistency of an ideologue—e.g., affirmative action is bad, period. It’s up to parents, not society or the schools, to be sure that children are educated. Ethnic studies and the “mania for ‘diversity’ ” produce delusions. Colleges teach impressionable Americans to “despise American society.” Minimum-wage laws are a drag on the economy. And so on. Sowell is generally fair-minded, reasonable and logical, but his readers will likely already be converts to his cause, for which reason he does not need to examine all the angles of a problem. (If it is true that most gun violence is committed in households where domestic abuse has taken place, then why not take away the abusers’ guns as part of the legal sentencing?) Often his arguments are very smart, as when he examines the career of Booker T. Washington, who was adept in using white people’s money to advance his causes while harboring no illusions that his benefactors were saints. Sometimes, though, Sowell’s sentiments emerge as pabulum, as when he writes, in would-be apothegms: “Government bailouts are like potato chips: You can’t stop with just one”; “I can understand why some people like to drive slowly. What I cannot understand is why they get in the fast lane to do it.” The answer to the second question, following Sowell, might go thus: because they’re liberals and the state tells them to do it, just to get in the way of hard-working real Americans. A solid, representative collection by a writer and thinker whom one either agrees with or not—and there’s not much middle ground on which to stand.

 

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-465-02250-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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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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