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NUMBERS DON'T LIE

71 STORIES TO HELP US UNDERSTAND THE MODERN WORLD

A fascinating book to be read straight through or consulted bit by bit.

An assembly of short, numbers-based investigations into important questions of the day.

“My goal is to demonstrate not only that numbers do not lie, but to discover which truth they convey,” writes Smil of this tidy, entertaining collection of brief inquiries into a host of hot-button topics: vaccinations, the malleability of unemployment figures, the consequences of diesel fuel, the fossil fuels behind wind turbines, the environmental impact of cars and cellphones, and the realities of Brexit. Regarding the last, the author writes that the U.K. has become “another has-been power whose claim to uniqueness rests on having too many troubled princes and on exporting costumed TV series set in fading country mansions staffed with too many servants.” Some of the more lighthearted material—e.g., the surprising number of benefits that tall people enjoy—help take the sting out of the more formidable issues: why replacing kerosene with biofuels to power our airplanes would require the planting of 125 million hectares with soybeans; the ubiquity of synthetic fertilizer, without which more than 3 billion people could go hungry; the glacially slow pace of alternative energy. Though all of Smil’s subjects—from the “zoomass” of cows to the physics of triple-paned windows to the manual labor required to build the pyramids—are situated firmly within the realms of math and science, with plenty of kilonewtons and exajoules, the author also slips in cogent discussions of other relevant current-affairs topics, including the flawed yet enduring concept of American exceptionalism: “Politicians may look far and wide for evidence of [it], but they won’t find it in the numbers, where it matters.” Throughout, Smil’s viewpoint is balanced, and each element of the text is fully backed by research as well as the author’s contagious curiosity. Even when examining dire circumstances, Smil keeps readers engaged.

A fascinating book to be read straight through or consulted bit by bit.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313622-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist


  • National Book Award Winner

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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