A wisdom-packed modern masculinity handbook that fits easily in the pocket.

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LETTERS TO A YOUNG MAN IN SEARCH OF HIMSELF

A guidebook for young men, delivered in the form of lessons from an older man.

La Cerva’s (Worldwords: Global Reflections to Awaken the Spirit, 2000, etc.) prettily designed nonfiction work follows in the very long tradition of the enchiridion, a handbook of life advice along the lines of works made famous by Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius. In such books, an older adviser gives advice and imparts wisdom to presumably younger readers, usually in the form of aphorisms or quick anecdotes. La Cerva organizes his own example around large conceptual groupings like “Being a Man,” “Parents,” and “Demystifying Emotions.” His short, accessible chapters address emotions like anger, fear, and sadness, and they attempt to untangle and simplify complicated subjects like sexuality, love, and fatherhood. The author surveys a wide spectrum of challenges faced by young men in the 21st century, and although he assures his audience that their real journey is interior, his chapters are nevertheless full of pragmatic advice on how to conduct oneself at work, at play, in relationships, and in a family. This advice can often be refreshingly counterintuitive; e.g., the author instructs his young readers that they need not always avoid arguments: “Greet those clashing, challenging moments of disagreement with the larger conscious perspective that they can be compost that nourishes the garden of your connection,” he writes. He’s likewise direct on the crucial subject of habits—not only inculcating good ones but being constantly aware of bad ones; “cease clinging to the fixed points of your perspectives and behaviors,” he admonishes, laying down a hard line, for instance, on addictions of any kind. The tone of all this is bracingly, invitingly optimistic. La Cerva wisely avoids lecturing, opting instead for a stern but empowering voice throughout. One of the inherent strengths of this kind of book comes about as a result of adopting exactly this mentoring tone, and La Cerva does it to near perfection, always being positive with his readers but never coddling them. He urges readers to acknowledge frankly their own biases and weaknesses as a first step to countering them and dealing with them, starting with the biggest of these, fear itself. “Fear is always a guest in the living room of your emotions, and you have the power to ask it to quiet down or leave,” he writes. “But first and foremost you must acknowledge its presence!” Such lines are typical of La Cerva’s prose, which is energetic and evocative, clearly designed to stick in the memory. “Don’t surrender,” he writes in one such passage, “your vivacious style to the dungeons of mediocrity by being a slave to convention.” Young male readers might feel slightly shamed by the author’s blunt assessments of their potential shortcomings, but they’ll never be discouraged by the advice laid out in these pages—and they might gain some great guidance in the process.

A wisdom-packed modern masculinity handbook that fits easily in the pocket.

Pub Date: June 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9893905-2-1

Page Count: 186

Publisher: Heartsongs Publications

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2018

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

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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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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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