COUNTRY OF EXILES

THE DESTRUCTION OF PLACE IN AMERICAN LIFE

A well-intentioned but not groundbreaking essay in cultural history, with a transparent title and an equally transparent argument. Repeating a common complaint of environmentalists and paleoconservatives alike, Leach (Land of Desire: Merchants, Money, and the Rise of a New American Culture, 1993) observes that most Americans lack a sense of place: a sense of belonging, that is, to a given plot of land, a city block, or a suburban neighborhood. His notion of place is something of an abstraction, but Leach means by it not only mere occupancy, but also shared construction: a place is made by a community of people who share ideals, working hours, goals, and habits. Such communities, Leach observes, are more common to rural and stay-at-home societies than to urban and cosmopolitan ones, and Americans have always been both somewhat rootless and disinclined to band together strictly on the basis of ethnic heritage or even class. At the dawn of the present century, Leach writes, the rising mass-market economy served to divorce Americans further from shared communities. “American business,” he argues, “did more than strive to inspire a desire for goods and to create a new institutional landscape to sustain it; it also changed the way Americans looked at and understood place. . . . Intrinsic to it was the cult of the new, the need to overturn the past and begin again, and to disregard all kinds of attachments in the interest of getting the ‘new and improved,’ whether goods, jobs, entertainment, or places.” The result, Leach maintains, is a continued splintering of American society into smaller and smaller groups, into a nation of self-interested individuals perfectly served by a global capitalism that looks pretty much the same all over the world. These are all valid arguments and well made, but they—re not new: many American social critics from Lewis Mumford to J.B. Jackson, Jane Jacobs, and Tony Hiss have made them before, and Leach doesn—t do much to bring them onto new ground.

Pub Date: April 30, 1999

ISBN: 0-679-44219-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1999

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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