Take that, Jesse. Whatever the merits of his argument, McWhorter is both fluent and fearless—and sure to catch hell.



Why do African-Americans continue to suffer, despite the successes of the civil-rights movement?

Linguist and conservative pundit McWhorter (Authentically Black, 2003, etc.) recounts that when he was a youngster living in a leafy Philadelphia neighborhood, his mother would sometimes take the long way around to work to pass through the ghetto because “she wanted me to have a sense of how other black people lived and how lucky we were to be middle class.” Years later, North Philly is worse off, and so are most other black communities. The reasons are varied: Crack, AIDS and poverty have something to do with it. But more so, McWhorter asserts, do the legacy of the 1960s and the rise of what he calls “therapeutic alienation,” which is tantamount to surrendering to expectations of nonperformance. Though his arguments may lend themselves to mischaracterization in the coming debate—and this book is one long provocation to it—McWhorter takes pains not to oversimplify the case. Yet, he insists, his book is “one more in the line of arguments that poor blacks’ problems are primarily due to culture rather than economics.” Thus, it is a cultural matter that black workers of an earlier era took long bus rides to manufacturing jobs well outside their neighborhoods, whereas their counterparts today do not—never mind that the buses may not run, or that the jobs may not exist. It is a cultural matter that welfare was “the product of a system white leftists created that allowed blacks to realize the worst of human nature, in discouraging individual responsibility”—leftists such as LBJ and Moynihan, one assumes. In the end, dogma wins out, as McWhorter, the anti–Spike Lee, protests that never has a cab not stopped for him and opines that black Republicans “are different from black Democrats only in a spontaneous understanding that resonant catchphrases and buzzwords are not activism.”

Take that, Jesse. Whatever the merits of his argument, McWhorter is both fluent and fearless—and sure to catch hell.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2006

ISBN: 1-592-40188-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Gotham Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2005

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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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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