An excellent exploration of the life of an admirable pioneer who deserves to be far better known.



A stirring life of a civil rights crusader.

An outstanding student from a working-class background, Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005) entered law school at Columbia in 1944, a time when, she recalled, the campus “resembled a ghost town.” Brown-Nagin—a constitutional law professor, dean of Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and Bancroft Prize–winning author—ably shows how Motley emerged as not just one of the first Black women to practice law, but a key assistant to Thurgood Marshall. Early on, her work led a newspaper reporter to call her “the Civil Rights Queen,” and he had a point. Motley was a critically important member of the team that successfully litigated Brown v. Board of Education, to the delight of one Southern judge who “could not suppress his laughter” at the lies of school officials. In the second act of her life in public service, Motley became the first woman to be elected the borough president of Manhattan and the first Black woman to be elected to the New York Senate. Finally, she became a federal judge who had a gift, as the author beautifully and convincingly demonstrates, for interpreting precedents in novel ways. For example, in deciding a case in which women reporters had been banned from the New York Yankees locker room, she weighed the presumed privacy rights of ballplayers through the lens of Roe v. Wade, with its promise of anonymity, but “rejected it as a legitimate reason for banning female journalists from the locker room entirely,” citing a previous case won by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In some cases, Motley was so far ahead of the societal curve that she courted controversy, as when she ruled that gay Catholics could protest in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The following year, notes Brown-Nagin, the Supreme Court upheld the criminalization of consensual gay sex, but Motley anticipated the sea change that would soon follow.

An excellent exploration of the life of an admirable pioneer who deserves to be far better known.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-524-74718-3

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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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 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 fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.


From the Pocket Change Collective series

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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