A brave, honest search for answers regarding incarceration.




An impassioned look inside the lives of a few inmates, “flawed, damaged, and culpable, but still human.”

In her unconventional examination of two individuals—her adopted brother and a notorious mobster—with complicated criminal records and histories of incarceration, poet, activist, and educator Imarisha (Scars/Stars, 2013, etc.) offers raw, breathing portraits of human fallibility as well as a searingly candid look at her own life: her radical evolution since reading Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Live from Death Row as a biracial teenager growing up in a small town and her early development of a “mass of contradictions and complexities: colors that clash and fight for dominance.” Through a newspaper advertisement, the then-15-year-old author befriended Kakamia Jahad Imarisha, a white Puerto Rican youth originally from Brooklyn, in jail for conspiracy to commit murder. Kakamia had moved with his mother to California in the 1980s and gotten caught up in a contract murder of a friend’s parents, eventually serving 25 years in California prisons. The author and Kakamia became kindred spirits. Imarisha does not sugarcoat the crime, yet her depiction of her adopted brother’s “soul-crushing” despair, his stifling, dangerous, gang-driven life in prison, and redeeming discovery and mastery of art, as well as her own emotionally fraught visits to him, provide a poignant look inside the lives of people we would rather not see or hear about. Similarly, through the account of former hit man Jimmy “Mac” MacElroy, whom she originally interviewed as a journalist, Imarisha records the life of a once-fascinating mobster washed up in his 60s and largely without hope. In between these moving accounts, the author inserts her own story of assault by a boyfriend and eventual abortion in order to grapple with the issues of accountability and forgiveness. She embraces the human side of criminals beyond the statistics (the title derives from the 1938 James Cagney film) and sets forth alternatives to brutal incarceration that involve “transformative justice.”

A brave, honest search for answers regarding incarceration.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-84935-174-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: AK Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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