As Cohen observes in this smart, useful account, the role of the U.S. in international affairs has been checkered, and it...




Surveying American foreign policy and its discontents.

The first ventures of the new United States in world affairs, writes Cohen (Emeritus, History/Univ. of Maryland, Baltimore County; The Challenge to American Primacy, 1945 to the Present, 2013, etc.), were mercantile; there were allies in the Revolution to be rewarded, but reward would come in the form of favorable trade concessions and not in political entanglements. Then James Monroe and his lieutenant, John Quincy Adams (“arguably the most skilled diplomat ever to serve as secretary of state”), came along to formulate a more comprehensive vision of foreign policy in the Monroe Doctrine, which effectively ordered the Old World to stay out of the affairs of the New World. The Old World did not follow to the letter, and neither did the U.S., occasioning still broader visions of international affairs, such as Theodore Roosevelt’s enthusiastic endorsement of the notion of an American empire. Cohen deftly weaves many strands of past events into a coherent narrative, and though not much will come as news to students of American history, there are surprises nonetheless. For instance, Roosevelt pressed the Russian government to treat the country’s Jews more humanely, but it was largely out of fear of an “influx of impoverished Jews” in America if that better treatment did not come—as indeed was the case. The “other” Roosevelt, Franklin, was a bit more cautious regarding the imperial project. As Cohen writes, he shared some of his compatriots’ isolationist sentiments, which held that America’s entry into World War I was misguided. Subsequent cycles of isolationism, such as the present one, have not advanced America’s cause or done anything to protect us, and there the author is sharply critical at points, especially of Bill Clinton, whose refusal to intervene in the Rwandan genocide was “the most reprehensible moment of his administration.”

As Cohen observes in this smart, useful account, the role of the U.S. in international affairs has been checkered, and it appears to be headed for a very bad patch indeed, given the current occupant of the White House.

Pub Date: April 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-231-17566-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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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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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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