Certainly odd but also smart and interesting. For any student who wants to write a term paper on Star Wars, this book could...


An exploration of how Star Wars “illuminates childhood, the complicated relationship between good and evil, rebellions, political change, and constitutional law.”

Sunstein (Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas2014, etc.) is a Harvard law professor and has served as an adviser to President Barack Obama; he is also a Star Wars fanatic. The author offers close readings of the movies, script decisions, their novelizations, and the fan fiction inspired by them, and he inflates it all to mythmaking worthy of Joseph Campbell’s scrutiny. “In all of human history, there’s never been a phenomenon like Star Wars,” writes Sunstein. “Fueled by social media, the whole series has a cult-like following, except that the cult is so large that it transcends the term. It’s humanity, just about.” Even for those few who lie outside that “just about,” this analysis engages with its broader themes about fathers and sons, timeliness and timelessness, destiny and free will, tradition and rebellion, God(s) and mankind. Though the author shows some academic rigor he largely avoids scholarly jargon except for the occasional “Let’s try to unpack it.” Sunstein is plainly writing for those who are equally invested in Star Wars and who want to learn more about how the franchise came about, why no one envisioned the scope and scale of its success, why it spoke specifically to its times and has continued to resonate, and how it encompasses spiritual, political, and psychological dimensions. What began as something of a homage to Flash Gordon has become, in the author’s eyes, a text through which we can decode all the issues of the modern world. “Here are thirteen ways of looking at Star Wars,” he writes. “Most of them have plausible sources in the movies. A few of them are nuts but still smart—which makes them especially interesting.”

Certainly odd but also smart and interesting. For any student who wants to write a term paper on Star Wars, this book could serve as a rich resource.

Pub Date: May 31, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-248422-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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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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