Students of exploration and world cultures will find value here.

VOYAGERS

THE SETTLEMENT OF THE PACIFIC

A scholarly survey of the current state of knowledge on the ancient peopling of Oceania.

Blending ethnohistory, archaeology, and linguistics, anthropologist Thomas asks the big questions about “a civilization that has seldom been recognized as such.” Who were its progenitors? Where did they come from? How did they accomplish such daring acts of navigation and exploration? To the first two questions, the author reaches far back into the past to study the dispersal of humans out of Africa and into Southeast Asia, from which protohominids such as Homo floresiensis, dubbed the “hobbit” for their short stature, fanned out into the islands of the South China Sea and what is now Indonesia. From Papua New Guinea, modern humans of the sapiens variety began to sail to nearby islands, usually keeping sight of land. The ancestors of the modern Polynesians, an Indigenous people who settled in what is now Taiwan, did them and the people of the Lapita culture one better. Using a sophisticated knowledge of the stars and the movement of ocean currents, they sailed all the way across the Pacific over generations. Thomas notes that in early encounters with Polynesians, European explorers theorized about their origins while marveling at the accomplishments of these sailors, concluding that “a single ‘great nation’ had dispersed itself across the vast ocean” because of the pronounced cultural continuities among the peoples who settled places as remote as Rapa Nui and New Zealand. Even so, as Thomas astutely observes, there were also profound differences. The Hawaiians developed a near-feudal royal system, for instance, “very different from the comparatively decentralized political forms that emerged in the Marquesas and among New Zealand Maori.” The author’s academic tone makes the book largely of interest to specialists, though his view that the Polynesians have long been “archipelago dwellers” well aware of their distant relatives on other atolls and high islands brings a welcome world-systems approach to Oceania, an understudied region.

Students of exploration and world cultures will find value here.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5416-1983-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

WILLIE NELSON'S LETTERS TO AMERICA

An epistolary grab bag of memories, lyrics, jokes, and homespun philosophy from the legendary musician.

As an indefatigable touring artist, Nelson (b. 1933) has had a lot of time on his hands during the pandemic. Following his collaboration with his sister, Me and Sister Bobbie, the road warrior offers a loose collection of lessons from a full life. If you’ve never read a book by or about Nelson, this one—characteristically conversational, inspirational, wise, funny, and meandering—is a good place to start. The book is filled with lyrics to many of his best-known songs, most of which he wrote but others that he has made his own as well. For those steeped in The Tao of Willie (2006), some of the stories will be as familiar as the songs—e.g., the origin story of his nicknames, including Booger Red and Shotgun Willie; his time as a DJ and a door-to-door Bible and encyclopedia salesman; early struggles in Nashville with “all the record executives who only see music as a bottom-line endeavor”; and return to his home state of Texas. Many of the personal stories about family and friends can be found in Me and Sister Bobbie, but they are good stories from a rich life, one of abundance for which Nelson remains profoundly grateful. So he gives thanks in the form of letters: to Texas, America, God, golf, and marijuana; the audiences who have supported him and the band that has had his back; those who have played any part in Farm Aid or his annual Fourth of July concert bashes; and departed friends and deceased heroes, one of whom, Will Rogers, answers him back. Nelson even addresses one to Covid-19, which looms over this book, making the author itchy and antsy. Even at 87, he can’t wait to be on the road again.

Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7852-4154-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper Horizon

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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