An exciting resource in a promising, thorough multivolume celebration of Black women.

TRAILBLAZERS

BLACK WOMEN WHO HELPED MAKE AMERICA GREAT

The first volume of an interdisciplinary, intersectional reference collection on influential Black women.

Disturbed by the 2016 election of Donald Trump and his pledge to “Make America Great Again,” author David was dismayed by the number of Americans who longed for the 1950s, “when White men ruled…and people of color had no rights.” She notes that surveys suggest that nearly 60% of White people believe that America in the 1950s was “better” than it is today. Even the #MeToo movement, a harbinger of 21st-century progressive activism, focused disproportionately on the experiences of White women. “Since history is told through the lens of the slaveholders,” who continue to control the nation’s narratives, it was important to David that she provide a comprehensive work that tells the “historical realities” too often “overlooked, misinterpreted, and often retold to present a false history.” The book starts with 50-plus pages of introductory material by David; Lyah Beth LeFlore-Ituen, a producer; and Chandra D.L. Waring, a professor, that contemplates both the victimization and the resilience of Black women. LeFlore-Ituen’s essay, for example, uses the multigenerational history of women in her own distinguished family as a lens through which to explore the impact of Black women on shaping the lives of their communities. Regardless of the dominant narratives in traditional history books, she reminds us, Black women have been telling their stories “at the kitchen table” for generations. The bulk of the nearly 700-page book comprises three parts that focus on Black women’s achievements in activism, dance, and sports. Each of the three sections begins with an introductory essay that provides a broad historical overview of the topic. Activists profiled include historical figures, like Harriet Tubman, Ella Baker, and Betty Shabazz, as well as modern figures, like criminal justice reform advocate Michelle Alexander and trans activist LaSaia Wade. The sections on dance and sports celebrate cultural icons from Josephine Baker and Debra Austin to Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Simone Biles. These chapters also challenge notions in sports broadcasting that paint successful Black athletes as “superhumanly ‘strong’ beings” and that fail to acknowledge their hard work, training, and mental fortitude.

The first book in an anticipated six-volume set, this is an inspiring, comprehensive work. With a multidisciplinary background in music, design, and poetry, David provides the model of activist scholarship that combines academic nuance and sophistication with an engaging writing style that is accessible to general readership, such as David’s essay that convincingly demonstrates how women served as the “foot soldiers” of the civil rights movement. Backed by impressive endnotes and references, each chapter is encyclopedic in breadth while offering fresh analytical insights into Black women who are well covered in the existing literature, like Rosa Parks. The choice to combine the topics of activism, dance, and sports makes for an eclectic collection. More consistency could have been paid in the formatting of chapters, which vary significantly in length. Accompanied by dozens of stark, powerful black-and-white photographs and portraits, this is a visually arresting volume whose words match the power of its images.

An exciting resource in a promising, thorough multivolume celebration of Black women.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-940939-79-7

Page Count: 595

Publisher: 2Leaf Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

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WILL

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars delivers a memoir of success won through endless, relentless work and self-reckoning.

“My imagination is my gift, and when it merges with my work ethic, I can make money rain from the heavens.” So writes Smith, whose imagination is indeed a thing of wonder—a means of coping with fear, an abusive father with the heart of a drill instructor, and all manner of inner yearnings. The author’s imagination took him from a job bagging ice in Philadelphia to initial success as a partner in the Grammy-winning rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Smith was propelled into stardom thanks to the ministrations of Quincy Jones, who arranged an audition in the middle of his own birthday party, bellowing “No paralysis through analysis!” when Smith begged for time to prepare. The mantra—which Jones intoned 50-odd times during the two hours it took for the Hollywood suits to draw up a contract for the hit comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—is telling, for hidden within this memoir lies a powerful self-help book. For Smith, all of life is a challenge in which one’s feelings are largely immaterial. “I watched my father’s negative emotions seize control of his ample intellect and cause him over and over again to destroy beautiful parts of our family,” he writes, good reason for him to sublimate negativity in the drive to get what he wanted—money, at first, and lots of it, which got him in trouble with the IRS in the early 1990s. Smith, having developed a self-image that cast him as a coward, opines that one’s best life is lived by facing up to the things that hold us back. “I’ve been making a conscious effort to attack all the things that I’m scared of,” he writes, adding, “And this is scary.” It’s a good lesson for any aspiring creative to ponder—though it helps to have Smith’s abundant talent, too.

A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984877-92-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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