A thought-provoking study in civics, history, and the decline and fall of self-government.

LAST BEST HOPE

AMERICA IN CRISIS AND RENEWAL

Can we save ourselves from ourselves in America’s “cold civil war”?

As New Yorker contributor and National Book Award winner Packer notes in this sharp and concise analysis, there’s one good thing to say about the current pandemic: With its arrival, “it became impossible to pass through the world in the normal bovine manner.” Of course, it also revealed massive cracks in the system and amplified a rift in which people either scream at each other or maintain a polite silence, an avoidance that “solves nothing” and indeed, by Packer’s account, is “part of the collapse.” Something is badly amiss in what used to be thought of as the last best hope in the world. Instead, we are overrun with instability, contending tribes, and useless politicians. Into this chaos stepped Donald Trump, who failed to become the dictator he so obviously wished to be only by virtue of “his own ineptitude, along with our creaky institutions and the remaining democratic faith of the American people.” Even so, Packer charges, we’re all responsible for Trump, in part because there are yawning gulfs among numerous visions of America. There’s the “Free America” of the libertarians, so susceptible to demagoguery; the “Smart America” of the progressives, which leaves blue-collar workers in the dust; the “Real America,” a bastion of racism, ignorance, and resentment; and the “Just America,” which “forces us to see the straight line that runs from slavery and segregation to the second-class life so many Black Americans live today.” In all of these, there are the ingredients of a fifth vision: “Equal America,” which involves “extending the New Deal to Americans in more areas of their lives,” from affordable and universal health care to a living minimum wage and beyond. It’s a project that “asks us to put more faith in ourselves and one another than we can bear,” but it surely beats where we are now.

A thought-provoking study in civics, history, and the decline and fall of self-government.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60366-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 19

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE

Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

Did you like this book?

more