A gentleman scholar and scold, Will continues to wield his sharp, discerning prose.

AMERICAN HAPPINESS AND DISCONTENTS

THE UNRULY TORRENT, 2008-2020

An overstuffed collection of the conservative columnist’s reviews and rarefied reflections from the Washington Post, geared toward his enduring “intellectually upscale” readers.

Organized by themes—American history, politics, baseball, obituaries, and books by favorite authors such as Max Hastings, Ron Chernow, and Rick Atkinson—this latest gathering of Will’s writing aspires to what he calls “trenchant elegance.” More often than not, he attains it. Railing against big government and the overreach of the executive branch, the author, well known for his old-school, small-L libertarianism and arch mannerisms, often returns to definitive moments in the ongoing story of America, such as the Cold War, the moon landing, and the JFK assassination. Regarding Hastings’ excellent recent book, Vietnam, Will writes, “Vietnam remains an American sorrow of squandered valor….U.S. statesmen and commanders, Hastings writes, lied too much to the nation and the world but most calamitously to themselves.” Some of Will’s irritations include the modern lack of civil discourse; presidential “prolixity” (the former president appears by name sparingly: “this low-rent Lear raging on his Twitter-heath has proven that the phrase malignant buffoon is not an oxymoron”), the “scandal” of mass incarceration and the overcriminalization of American life; and emotional support animals in airplanes. A deeply erudite, always opinionated commentator, Will laments the erosion of literacy and advocates for binge-reading rather than binge-watching, and he parses the intricacies of recent Supreme Court cases with authority. The author concludes this volume with tributes to some of his fallen heroes, such as Margaret Thatcher (“She had the smooth, cold surface of a porcelain figurine, but her decisiveness made her the most formidable woman in twentieth-century politics, and England’s most formidable woman since its greatest sover­eign, Elizabeth I”), Ronald Reagan, and, of course, National Review founder William F. Buckley, “the 20th century’s most consequential journalist.”

A gentleman scholar and scold, Will continues to wield his sharp, discerning prose.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-306-92441-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Hachette

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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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