First-class reporting and storytelling add grace to a depressing tale—one that Bergner deserves praise for venturing to tell.

IN THE LAND OF MAGIC SOLDIERS

A STORY OF WHITE AND BLACK IN WEST AFRICA

A remarkable journey into hell: a country where nothing works and murderers rule.

Novelist/journalist Bergner, whose God of the Rodeo (1998) was set in another hell—a maximum-security prison in Louisiana—here voyages to a country the UN has repeatedly deemed “the worst on earth”: Sierra Leone, in West Africa. Torn apart by a decade-long civil war uncommonly vicious even by the standards of a region where civil war and ethnic violence are endemic, Sierra Leone seems to many outside observers to be utterly unsalvageable. In this vivid narrative of travel and observation, Bergner gives only a few reasons to think that anything is better than that; as he wanders among terrorized, maimed villagers (a favorite tactic of rebels and government troops alike being to lop limbs off suspected enemies), doubtful aid workers, and vicious fighters such as one “young man with an AK-47 and a black cap and white drug-frothed saliva webbing the corners of his mouth,” he more than suggests that the situation is hopeless. There are many in his narrative who would argue otherwise, from homegrown politicians who believe that one day Sierra Leone will be a paradise to which “the rich will come, the poor will come, the middle class will come” to white mercenaries who love the entire business of war, such as one South African who crows, “It’s the biggest and best game in the history of mankind.” And then, of course, there are the missionaries, ever hopeful of recruiting souls in all the mess. While wondering whether his views are not freighted with prejudice as a white, Bergner delivers a memorable, scarifying portrait of a country in terminal turmoil—one whose leading citizens, he notes, pray will soon be recolonized by any power that can keep the peace.

First-class reporting and storytelling add grace to a depressing tale—one that Bergner deserves praise for venturing to tell.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-374-26653-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN

Bernstein and Woodward, the two Washington Post journalists who broke the Big Story, tell how they did it by old fashioned seat-of-the-pants reporting — in other words, lots of intuition and a thick stack of phone numbers. They've saved a few scoops for the occasion, the biggest being the name of their early inside source, the "sacrificial lamb" H**h Sl**n. But Washingtonians who talked will be most surprised by the admission that their rumored contacts in the FBI and elsewhere never existed; many who were telephoned for "confirmation" were revealing more than they realized. The real drama, and there's plenty of it, lies in the private-eye tactics employed by Bernstein and Woodward (they refer to themselves in the third person, strictly on a last name basis). The centerpiece of their own covert operation was an unnamed high government source they call Deep Throat, with whom Woodward arranged secret meetings by positioning the potted palm on his balcony and through codes scribbled in his morning newspaper. Woodward's wee hours meetings with Deep Throat in an underground parking garage are sheer cinema: we can just see Robert Redford (it has to be Robert Redford) watching warily for muggers and stubbing out endless cigarettes while Deep Throat spills the inside dope about the plumbers. Then too, they amass enough seamy detail to fascinate even the most avid Watergate wallower — what a drunken and abusive Mitchell threatened to do to Post publisher Katherine Graham's tit, and more on the Segretti connection — including the activities of a USC campus political group known as the Ratfuckers whose former members served as a recruiting pool for the Nixon White House. As the scandal goes public and out of their hands Bernstein and Woodward seem as stunned as the rest of us at where their search for the "head ratfucker" has led. You have to agree with what their City Editor Barry Sussman realized way back in the beginning — "We've never had a story like this. Just never."

Pub Date: June 18, 1974

ISBN: 0671894412

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1974

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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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