The repetition may be maddening, drilled into readers like a kata, but Larkin provides some useful nuggets for these fraught...



“That one time when violence is the answer, make no mistake, it will be the only answer”—a timely survival manual for life in a strange era.

Violence is always the last resort. That said, given a time of slashers on city buses, shooters in the streets, and a politics of division and hatred, to say nothing of the usual mashers and bullies, it’s useful to know how to take down a threat. The necessary precondition, writes security expert and former military intelligence officer Larkin (Survive the Unthinkable: A Total Guide to Women’s Self-Protection, 2013), is what might be called situational awareness. “Listening to music full blast and staring into the abyss of our never-ending Facebook news feed effectively makes us deaf and blind,” he writes, and eminently vulnerable to the predators among us. While noting continually that violence moves any argument onto ground that you can no longer control, the author allows that there are times when the only response is just that; in any violent encounter, he urges, “the real edge goes to the person with the willingness and the training to get the job done.” His book amounts to a kind of notional manual geared more toward reconciliation with the fact that it’s an ugly world in which “asocial violence” is rampant rather than a practical guide to pressure points and guaranteed knockout punches—though there certainly are mentions of such things. As the narrative draws to a close, we find Larkin celebrating, more than once, the satisfaction that comes from rhythmic smacking and hearing the crunch of an enemy’s bone, all thanks to the fact that readers, now convinced that the world is indeed an arena of Darwinian struggle, have become “explosively efficient.” Atavistically so, one might say, but given that the headlines would seem to bear Larkin out, it might be just the attitude to adopt.

The repetition may be maddening, drilled into readers like a kata, but Larkin provides some useful nuggets for these fraught times. And remember: violence is always the last resort—even if you’re a ninja.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-35464-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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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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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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