A strong contribution to conversations about racism, injustice, and violence, all of which continue to plague this country.

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THE CRUELTY IS THE POINT

THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF TRUMP'S AMERICA

A cogent examination of the challenges America faces.

In a vigorous collection of more than a dozen essays, award-winning journalist Serwer, a staff writer at the Atlantic and former fellow at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, considers the social and ideological forces that led to Trump’s presidency and, without intervention, will continue to shape American society. Most essays, drawn from pieces published since 2016, are newly contextualized, and Serwer includes additional pieces on immigration, politics within the American Jewish community, the destructive impact of police unions, and the past and future of American authoritarianism. He argues persuasively that racism lies at the heart of Trumpism. Although the media focused on economic anxiety to account for Trump’s rise and continuing appeal, “the movement,” he asserts, “cannot be rescued from its bigotry,” which was intensified by Obama’s presidency. Trump’s supporters have found what they deeply wanted: “a president who embodies the rage they feel toward those they hate and fear, while reassuring them that that rage is nothing to be ashamed of.” Serwer underscores the prevalence of cruelty in American life, which Trump exacerbated. In “The Cruelty of the Covid Contract,” he sees that Trump’s refusal to deal with the pandemic was essentially racist. “The lives of disproportionately black and brown workers are being sacrificed to fuel the engine of a faltering economy, by a president who disdains them,” he writes. “This is the COVID contract.” In examining the claims of nativists and White supremacists, Serwer traces the roots of White nationalism to the American eugenics movement that influenced immigration policy in the 1920s and later fed Nazi ideology. In “The Cruelty of the Code of Silence,” he excoriates police unions for promoting the image of the police “as the lone barrier between civilization and barbarism,” characterizing the people they are meant to defend and protect as violent and uncontrollable.

A strong contribution to conversations about racism, injustice, and violence, all of which continue to plague this country.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-23080-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

THE COMFORT BOOK

Bestselling author Haig offers a book’s worth of apothegms to serve as guides to issues ranging from disquietude to self-acceptance.

Like many collections of this sort—terse snippets of advice, from the everyday to the cosmic—some parts will hit home with surprising insight, some will feel like old hat, and others will come across as disposable or incomprehensible. Years ago, Haig experienced an extended period of suicidal depression, so he comes at many of these topics—pain, hope, self-worth, contentment—from a hard-won perspective. This makes some of the material worthy of a second look, even when it feels runic or contrary to experience. The author’s words are instigations, hopeful first steps toward illumination. Most chapters are only a few sentences long, the longest running for three pages. Much is left unsaid and left up to readers to dissect. On being lost, Haig recounts an episode with his father when they got turned around in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was correct, a bit of wisdom Haig turned to during his depression when he focused on moving forward: “It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.” Many aphorisms sound right, if hardly groundbreaking—e.g., a quick route to happiness is making someone else happy; “No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having space you need to live”; “External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our mind.” Haig’s fans may enjoy this one, but others should take a pass.

A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313666-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Life

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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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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