Stellar research in women’s history, especially crucial due to recent threats to abortion rights across the country.

THE MAN WHO HATED WOMEN

SEX, CENSORSHIP, & CIVIL LIBERTIES IN THE GILDED AGE

How the reactionary Christian ideology of one government official contributed to the suppression of women’s reproductive freedom for decades.

In this important work of biographical history, novelist Sohn traces the career of Anthony Comstock (1844-1915), special agent to the U.S. Post Office and secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. For more than 40 years, Comstock, a deeply Christian dry goods seller from Connecticut, harassed and imprisoned many of the important pioneers in the birth control movement. “He became convinced that obscenity, which he called a ‘hydra-headed monster,’ led to prostitution, illness, death, abortions, and venereal disease,” writes the author. In 1873, with the aid of well-heeled YMCA leaders, he was able to pass the Comstock Act, which “made the distribution, selling, possession, and mailing of obscene material and contraception punishable with extreme fines and prison sentences.” Wielding this law, he doggedly pursued freethinking, activist women and their supporters as they attempted to speak and write about women’s bodies, sexual matters, and abortion. These activists included the sisters Victoria C. Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin, stockbrokers, spiritualists, and “free lovers”; Angela and Ezra Heywood, printers and writers; abortionist Ann “Madam Restell” Lohman, who committed suicide rather than be prosecuted; Dr. Sara B. Chase, who, in defiance, named her popular birth control device the “Comstock Syringe”; Ida Craddock, a spiritual consultant and writer on happy marital sex, who also killed herself when prosecuted; Emma Goldman, anarchist and birth control activist; and Margaret Sanger, who took on Comstock in court and prevailed in starting the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn. Throughout this immensely readable history, Sohn fashions sympathetic narratives of these women’s lives and underscores their invaluable sacrifices for a vital cause. Many readers will be appalled to learn that literature about birth control was once considered obscene.

Stellar research in women’s history, especially crucial due to recent threats to abortion rights across the country.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-17481-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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