PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Eig does an excellent job of tracing King’s interior struggles and self-doubts amid the sudden onslaught of media attention, threats, the bombing of his home and his near-death after being stabbed by a Black woman in Harlem ... Eig takes the time to thoroughly document King’s many affairs – much of which we know about because of the FBI’s relentless surveillance ... At times, Eig’s book does give us hints of a King who might speak directly to our own times – for instance his advocacy of reparations for African Americans for centuries of bondage and oppression, although it is notable that his last effort, the poor people’s march on Washington, sought to recruit Chicanos, Native Americans, white coal miners and other groups to its cause. In general, however, the King we find here is one that previous biographers have charted. Eig’s thoroughly researched account updates their work, but...it mostly traces and deepens the tracks of a familiar story.
Keisha N. Blain
PositiveThe Washington PostBlain is forthright in acknowledging complexities...but nonetheless she uses modern terms such as \'intersectionality,\' \'reproductive rights\' and \'racial capitalism\' to describe Hamer’s philosophy and its legacy. Yet one gets the sense that these terms don’t entirely capture Hamer’s core concerns ... Hamer is an essential and inspirational figure for anyone seeking an honest accounting of America’s troubled past and for those who set themselves to the still-unfinished struggle for change, and Blain does an excellent job of reminding us of her importance. Every generation deserves to be reminded of her legacy, even as the temptation to press Hamer into the service of our own struggles remains irresistible.
Akhil Reed Amar
PositiveThe Washington Post... the rarest of things — a constitutional romance. Amar, an eminent professor of law and political science at Yale, has great affection for his subject as a text that is worthy of loving engagement by scholars and the public at large ... Amar’s story is more celebratory, but the strength of his argument depends on whether his central metaphor of a conversation accurately captures what is at stake in this book ... Amar delivers brilliant chestnuts of interpretation ... Amar is fair-minded in assessing the deficits of the new document, noting for instance that the three-fifths clause buttressed enslavers’ power in the House and enabled Jefferson and a succession of enslavers to win the presidency on the backs of the enslaved ... Amar loves his subjects — perhaps a bit too much ... Amar freely confesses that he hopes his book will take its place alongside classic works by historians such as George Bancroft, Charles Beard and Gordon Wood. It is too early to make such predictions, but one should note that these classic authors attained their influence and staying power in part by capturing something that characterized their era, as well as something less timebound. In a moment that has produced profound debates on such topics as America’s place in a larger world and its racial, ethnic and religious composition, it is open to question whether a book that traverses, often brilliantly, such a delimited range of conversation can capture what was truly at stake for Americans of the founding generation, as well as for ourselves.
RaveThe Washington Post... [a] pithy and thought-provoking book ... In short, punchy chapters, Cose examines one issue after another where democratic commitments and speech claims seem to conflict ... a requiem of sorts for the core assumptions under which Cose has conducted his long and respected career. Indeed, it arrives in the midst of an election season when the journalistic craft that he represents has been under siege. He could have easily penned a jeremiad, calling on his readers to reassert old values from which Americans have unfortunately departed. Instead, he has delivered a trenchant critique of those values as harmful to the project of preserving our democracy amid our demographic, political and technological challenges ... Readers will find much with which to agree, disagree and consider in these pages. In that sense, this is a book that represents the best of our free-speech traditions.
RaveThe Washington PostWilkerson’s book is strongest when she illustrates her points through poignant stories, like that of a Black woman born in Texas after the civil rights era to parents who simply named her Miss, in defiance of the caste assumptions that required Black people to be addressed by their first names ... Wilkerson’s book is a powerful, illuminating and heartfelt account of how hierarchy reproduces itself, as well as a call to action for the difficult work of undoing it, but the fundamental conceit that drives its analysis is one of recognition ... Wilkerson reminds us that this is not the first time the United States, like other societies, has tried to come to grips with its foundational problem. Unless one reaches for those foundations and tears them out, she warns, caste is likely to remain with us long after our current moment of racial reckoning is done.
Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
MixedThe Washington PostThe strength of Glaude’s book depends on how well he makes the case that Baldwin speaks directly to our times ... is, in fact, two different books. The first takes the reader on a deeply researched tour of Baldwin’s essays and actions from the mid-1960s forward ... [Glaude\'s] penetrating book does an excellent job of defending the power and beauty of Baldwin’s later intellectual projects and explicating them for scholars and lay readers alike, quoting extensively (as one must) from Baldwin’s words for full effect ... But Glaude also has a second project, which is to join in the recent trend of repurposing Baldwin for the present, prompted by \'the election of Donald Trump and the ugliness that consumed my country\' ... Glaude freely admits that \'in 2016, I could not bring myself to vote for Hillary Clinton\' given the failure of the Democratic Party to adopt policies specifically targeted at black Americans...Begin Again represents Glaude’s personal coming to grips with that grave error of judgment. As such, it contains moments of profound insight ... Glaude seems to deny any significance to the election and tenure of Barack Obama, largely because he did not enact Glaude’s preferred public policies. Indeed, he curtly dismisses Obama in biting asides sprinkled throughout the book — an odd choice given that Baldwin’s moral power derived in part from his ability to find common ground between ’60s-era black figures who sometimes launched vitriolic attacks against one another ... Of course, it would be foolhardy to expect an American president to reject the core national narrative, even a false one, but at the same time there seems to be a gaping absence in this book. If we are in the after times, then what was the before? Begin Again is a groundbreaking and informative guide to Baldwin and his era, even as it remains an uncertain map of our own.
MixedThe Washington PostThompson concludes, with his penchant for self-examination, we are all indifferent to others in one way or another ... Thompson leaves us unsettled at this point. Should we all accept the fact of indifference and move on? That would seem an unsatisfying response to the racial crisis of our times ... He sometimes celebrates his individualism using stereotypical descriptions of African Americans who do not share his views, such as his curt dismissal of his more race-identified black college classmates as acting out psychological black-nationalist fantasies prompted by their integrated upbringings. At such times, he seems to be channeling some of the 1980s- and ’90s-era culture wars of his mentors, Murray and Stanley Crouch. Yet, when he confronts the contradictions of race in present-day America, Thompson’s individualism can lead him to moments of profound descriptive beauty, such as his too-brief recounting of his conversation about firearms and racial identity with the founder of the black gun owners group, and his decision, with which he ends the book, to go to a gun range and do some shooting. He imagines himself carrying a gun in defense of his race. It’s a fantasy experience, full of contradictions and in many ways simply absurd. But that’s also true, Thompson seems to be saying, of so much of the ways we imagine race in America.
PositiveThe Washington PostThomas is, in short, a bundle of contradictions, which Corey Robin proposes to sort out in his important and well-argued book ... What makes his account distinctive is his claim that three central frameworks organize Thomas’s thought: race, capitalism and the Constitution ... Robin has produced a thoughtful and careful explication of Thomas’s core ideas, showing how they emerge partly from his biography and setting out their disturbing implications. This is as good a synthesis of Thomas’s intellectual world as we are likely to get. But Robin’s ambitious project is based on the assumption that a unified philosophy ties together Thomas’s complicated life ... Despite Robin’s valuable efforts, Thomas remains, in so many ways, an enigma.
PositiveThe Washington PostIn Unexampled Courage...federal judge Richard Gergel presents a deeply researched account of Woodard’s tragic story and weaves it into a larger narrative. Gergel chooses as his core theme racial redemption rather than racial violence ... Some readers of his book, however, might draw from it more disturbing conclusions about America’s racial past—as well as its present ... Unexampled Courage also serves as the definitive account of Woodard’s blinding and Shull’s prosecution. Gergel delivers some stern judgments about the competence of the federal prosecutors who brought an \'ill-prepared\' case against Shull ... American race relations have changed markedly since Woodard’s tragic case, and that case, as Gergel convincingly argues, played some role in producing the change.
PositiveThe Washington Post\"The book is best in its earliest pages, where Mckesson stays closer to what happened in Ferguson and to his difficult childhood in Baltimore ... This is a poetic, passionate and deeply personal book that dutifully disclaims any pretense of leadership, crediting everything to the collective actions of individuals in the streets of Ferguson ... The Other Side of Freedom is a good guide to the ironies and contradictions of this new social movement, and of the individual who has reluctantly come to personify it.\
PositiveThe Boston ReviewBell-Scott’s work succeeds in connecting Murray and Roosevelt to larger historical processes while focusing on the details of their individual lives. But her method does have its costs. The Firebrand and the First Lady is at times a too-straightforward narrative of what these women did, what they wrote to each other, and the factual circumstances that surrounded their many letters and meetings.