As intended, McWhorter raises hackles as he challenges received opinions and entrenched notions.



Rousing essays on the nature of being African-American today and a dissection of currents the author of Losing the Race (2000) finds self-defeating.

Racism is not the greatest problem facing black people, writes McWhorter (Linguistics/Berkeley); even systemic racism is a surmountable obstacle that for the majority of African-Americans has been surmounted. The problem in the black community is a double consciousness in which “the ‘authentic’ black person stresses personal initiative and strength in private, but dutifully takes on the mantle of victimhood as a public face.” This collection of nine articles, most previously published, extends the arguments McWhorter made in Losing the Race: African-Americans must give up the “seductive drug” of holding whites accountable for every perceived problem in the community; avoid welfare and demand opportunities for self-realization, not charity and handouts; fight their unacknowledged “sense that at the end of the day, black people are inferior to whites . . . an internalization of the contempt that the dominant class once held for us.” Achievement comes from within, whatever life's imperfections, asserts McWhorter, but to pigeonhole him as a neo-conservative would be a mistake (though his use of the term “silent majority” in the subtitle encourages it). He is too freethinking, too likely to cite Malcolm X or W.E.B. Du Bois. His takes on racial profiling and slavery reparations are middle-of-the-road and reform-minded. His suggestions that diversity can be a mere tokenism will ruffle only a few feathers, although comments like “usually there is a transition period during which people on both sides of the divide rue the impending ‘death of their culture’ . . . but mixture wins out in the end” ought to get his critics jumping for their pens. His own critique of Cornel West's move to Princeton is little more than posturing and beard-pulling.

As intended, McWhorter raises hackles as he challenges received opinions and entrenched notions.

Pub Date: Jan. 27, 2003

ISBN: 1-592-40001-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Gotham Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2002

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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