Eye-opening to those who didn’t know; another slap in the face to those who did.


The United States of Incarceration


A scathing primer on well-known but unaddressed criminal justice system discrimination against the poor, minorities, and the mentally ill.

Debut author Anderson, a prison reformer, National Guardsman, and ex-Marine, takes readers on a short, conscience-jarring excursion into the harsh realities of American justice. Now that the United States far outranks other countries in the sheer number of people behind bars, Anderson deftly highlights the ominous emergence beginning in the 1970s of what he calls an ideology-driven prison-industrial complex that, in addition to being a major government employer, is turning incarceration into a profit center for certain private businesses. Statistics he provides show that in 1970, on the eve of Nixon’s war on drugs, some 400,000 Americans were incarcerated. By 2010, the prison population had leaped to an astounding 2.5 million, including large numbers of low-level, nonviolent offenders whose real crime was not having enough money for adequate legal representation. Few went to trial; nearly all were compelled to cop a plea to avoid potentially heavier sentences. African-Americans make up a disproportionately large share of all inmates, evidence of what Anderson calls the new Jim Crow. This massive, taxpayer-funded lockup is now a multibillion industry that employs, according to Anderson’s statistics, some 750,000 people at the federal, state, and local levels. That’s not counting employees of privately run prisons. Concurrently, Anderson says, the last vestiges of pre-1970s programs for rehabilitation and mental health have given way to a more punishing and unforgiving approach that is quick to throw away the key. Anyone who has seen the crowded parking lots around courthouses, jails, and prisons cannot doubt that perps are, in a perverse way, major employers in an industry that too often produces only broken lives and more of the same. Anderson does a fine job bringing this out. He also scores in suggesting that we, the un-incarcerated, should be alarmed by police armed to the nines, plus the suddenly more common governmental imposition of what amounts to marshal law before and after major storms and in reaction to events such as the Boston Marathon bombing. Anderson gives every indication of being a left-oriented ideologue, but this hardly means we can dismiss all he has to say in this barbed wire blast.

Eye-opening to those who didn’t know; another slap in the face to those who did.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-1491746264

Page Count: 150

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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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