Sunstein seemingly never runs out of ideas. Many of them are solid, some of them are debatable and a few are even...

CONSPIRACY THEORIES AND OTHER DANGEROUS IDEAS

Supposedly controversial essays from an allegedly dangerous man.

Harvard Law School professor Sunstein (Simpler: The Future of Government, 2013, etc.) is one of America’s premier public intellectuals, a prolific writer of scholarly works as well as books and essays for a broader engaged public. His legal and political writing and his embrace of behavioral economics drew the attention of the Obama administration, which appointed him administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. It was this perch and Sunstein’s visible record of publications that caused Glenn Beck to call Sunstein “the most dangerous man in America,” a title that the author not only does not declaim, but embraces. This collection gathers 11 of his essays, many of which originated as articles in legal journals. Sunstein addresses a wide range of topics, including conspiracy theories (“Why do people accept conspiracy theories that turn out to be false and for which the evidence is weak or even nonexistent?”), the rights of animals, marriage rights, climate change, and legal and political theories such as minimalism and the idea of trimming, which effectively involves trying to steer clear of extremes in the shaping of policy and law. Even when the author addresses putatively liberal causes—climate change or the establishment of “a new progressivism”—he writes nothing that could be construed as dangerous. He is a careful thinker and clear writer, and even if one disagrees with his conclusions, it is difficult to categorize his writing as particularly extreme; indeed, most of his conclusions fall near the center. In another generation he would probably fit into the "Vital Center" of American history and politics.

Sunstein seemingly never runs out of ideas. Many of them are solid, some of them are debatable and a few are even provocative, but calling them “dangerous” says more about the bankrupt state of our current civic dialogue than it does about the author and his ideas.

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-2662-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

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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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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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