Despite some repetition, Solnit’s passionate, shrewd, and hopeful critiques are a road map for positive change. Keep these...

WHOSE STORY IS THIS?

OLD CONFLICTS, NEW CHAPTERS

Clarion calls for social and political activism.

Readers familiar with Solnit’s most recent collections of essays, Call Them by Their True Names, the winner of the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction, will find more of the same here, laced with even more scathing and harsh assessments of our world today. In a series of sharp pieces, the author dissects a variety of timely topics, especially the sexual harassment and discrimination of women and the #MeToo movement as well as Native American rights, the anti-gun movement, white nationalism, Black Lives Matter, and climate change. Solnit argues that we live in a transformative time: “You can see change itself happening, if you watch carefully and keep track of what was versus is.” She wants to build “new cathedrals for new constituencies.” The names may have changed, but for Solnit, the stories remain the same. After recalling being sexually harassed by a cook when she was a busgirl, she goes on to discuss Harvey Weinstein and how some men in power can go to “extraordinary lengths to make somebodies into nobodies,” noting “that truth, like women, can be bullied into behaving.” In “Voter Suppression Begins at Home,” Solnit recounts personally observing how husbands can “bully and silence and control their wives,” even with mail-in ballots. She takes on Brett Kavanaugh and Jian Ghomeshi, formerly with CBC, over the “long, brutal tradition of asserting that men are credible but women are not.” She praises Christine Blasey Ford as a “welcome earthquake” for speaking out at the Kavanaugh hearing. The author also praises Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for her Green New Deal and those who helped remove Confederate statues around the country—though she bemoans the fact “that there are only five statues of named women in New York City.” Donald Trump, that “dirtbag dragon,” is often held up for scorn.

Despite some repetition, Solnit’s passionate, shrewd, and hopeful critiques are a road map for positive change. Keep these collections coming.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64259-018-0

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Haymarket Books

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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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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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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