RaveThe Nation\"... a learned and thoughtful portrayal of the history of race relations in America \'through the lens of the Supreme Court\' ... In a feat of graceful compression, Burton and Derfner survey the whole of the Supreme Court’s encounters with race ... They infuse their text with a buoyant, humane, and steadfast liberalism that seems practically immune to discouragement ... however, they show with heartbreaking clarity how the Supreme Court has typically been more a foe than a friend to the pursuit of racial equality ... Burton and Derfner’s discussion of recent Supreme Court jurisprudence offers high levels of insight, and they provide reliable guidance on controversies involving affirmative action, capital punishment, regulation of police, and other vexing subjects. But they do overlook certain knotty complications that ought to be acknowledged ... the racial politics of crime policy are more complex than many people realize.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review... written with verve, painted with broad strokes and dotted with memorable anecdotes and vivid quotations ... Anderson’s account, however, is wanting in important respects. She argues unconvincingly, in the face of formidable scholarship to the contrary, that the aim to protect slavery was the predominant motive behind the Second Amendment ... in her telling, dread of Blacks was the essential, overriding cause of the Second Amendment, an entitlement \'rooted in fear of Black people, to deny them their rights, to keep them from tasting liberty.\' Such claims significantly overstate the role of race in the amendment’s development ... provides little useful guidance regarding contemporary approaches to the matter of \'race and guns.\' A historian need not be a policy analyst. But Anderson wades into the volatile debate over the legality and wisdom of competing views on gun possession.
PositiveThe Washington Post... an unembarrassed hagiography ... Meacham’s account is loving and instructive. In his portrayal, Lewis was not as visionary as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., or as arresting as Malcolm X, or as captivating as Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture). But to Meacham he was more admirable than any of them in terms of his dogged determination, his unimpeachable personal decency and his unshakable faith that seeking justice by noble means would ultimately lead to redemption ... He relates with verve the story of Lewis’s early manhood ... His Truth Is Marching On makes two important points especially well. The first has to do with a feature of the Black freedom movement that is often neglected ... Praiseworthy, too, is Meacham’s care in emphasizing the breadth of the leadership that stepped forward so splendidly to guide the Black freedom movement ... His Truth Is Marching On would have benefited from more creative tension between its author and his hero ... More questioning on Meacham’s part would have provided a salutary interruption for cheerleading that, at last, becomes a bit boring.
Kent Garrett and Jeanne Ellsworth
MixedThe Washington PostGarrett’s memoir offers an instructive peek at a Harvard that has been transformed ... One hopes that the intellectual environment of Harvard today is more fascinating than the one that hardly makes an appearance in Garrett’s memoir. He discusses no class that left an impression him, no book to which he was introduced, no idea that grabbed him, no teacher with whom he was enthralled. He describes excitedly a dinner that he and some classmates shared with Malcolm X. He says that on account of that meeting, \'something shifted inside my young mind and soul.\' Perhaps so. But I would more confidently credit the claim if it was substantiated by some contemporaneous evidence ... What many would see as a remarkable stroke of good fortune is eclipsed in Garrett’s telling by the recrudescence of fears and frustrations that he had briefly consigned to the past.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewHis journalistic coups revealed an uncanny ability to wheedle incriminating remarks from defensive suspects and damning observations from unfriendly witnesses ... A vivid, quick-paced, accessible account of horrific crimes ... Mitchell portrays these killers’ racism unflinchingly ... At the same time, Mitchell illuminates the racism in the broader culture that made egregious acts of Negrophobic violence imaginable and, in the minds of many onlookers, tolerable if not defensible ... Brave, bracing and instructive, Race Against Time is, on occasion, insufficiently probing ... An excellent work ... No single book about such an expansive topic could possibly serve as a comprehensive account, and Race Against Time admirably assumes the heavy burden that Jerry Mitchell takes on; it warrants praise, gratitude and a wide audience.
PositiveThe NationIn Supreme Inequality, Adam Cohen argues that for half a century, America’s highest court has waged \'an unrelenting war\' on the poor while championing the rich ... Supreme Inequality offers a damning indictment. With disciplined fury, Cohen patiently collates and dissects cases whose connective tissues are often overlooked, bringing to light a subject that should receive more attention than it does: the Supreme Court’s inequality jurisprudence ... Cohen writes in a lively, accessible fashion. He is attentive to the oft-neglected people behind the lawsuits named after them, he is careful to explain and humanize difficult legal abstractions, and he shows with sobering particularity the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s decisions.
RaveLondon Review of Books (UK)The Second Founding exhibits the sterling qualities we have come to expect in Foner’s scholarship, particularly the careful, nuanced judgments. Resisting the overwrought pessimism currently fashionable in some parts of the left, he highlights a remarkable episode in which progressive change erupted unexpectedly. Who could have imagined in 1860 that within a decade an African American would replace the defeated president of the Confederacy as the representative of Mississippi in the Senate? But Foner also insists on recognising the strong pull of racism in American affairs.
PanThe Nationn his determined effort to be coolly analytical and give Thomas his due, Robin can at times accord the justice an excessive solicitude...is [Thomas] really a formidable thinker, or is his thinking merely that of a Republican apparatchik skilled in bureaucratic self-promotion and intensely focused on using the power he has amassed to promote retrograde policies? This is the central question posed by Thomas’s status as one-ninth of the living American Constitution, and it is one that Robin fails to answer in a fully satisfying way ... In some readings of Thomas’s opinions, Robin can also be excessively impressed by his arguments ... Despite offering illuminating readings of Thomas’s legal and political career, The Enigma of Clarence Thomas sometimes falls victim to a talented con artist who, over the course of his long career, has seduced and traduced many observers, allies, and adversaries ... It is understandable why Robin grants Thomas a grudging respect, but alas, the seriousness of his effort to understand an ideological adversary contrasts sharply with the vapidity, cruelty, and opportunism of his subject.
Ibram X. Kendi
PositiveThe Washington PostThe persona reflected in this memoir is compellingly attractive in important respects ... That [Kendi] was able to marshal the wherewithal to push his manuscript through to publication in the face of such grim circumstances warrants applause ... Kendi also displays an admirable independence and candor. Though he situates himself far to the left among black activist intellectuals, he is unafraid to say things likely to singe the sensibilities of many of his potential followers ... Kendi’s book suffers, alas, from major flaws. On one page he posits the interesting and potentially fruitful idea that \'racist\' ought not to be used as a pejorative term connoting a moral failing but ought instead to be used clinically, as a strictly descriptive term of analysis. On an adjacent page, however, without qualification, he condemns racism as a \'crime\' ... In the most obtuse pages, Kendi condemns standardized testing, disparages the significance of what should be alarming racial patterns in academic achievement gaps and excoriates efforts to redress those gaps by elevating the scores of those (typically disadvantaged students of color) lagging behind. His polemic is littered with misleading red herrings, as when he says that implicit in the idea of academic achievement gaps, as measured by statistical instruments like test scores and dropout rates, is a conviction that the qualities measured by such criteria constitute \'the only form of academic ‘achievement.’\' There is no such necessary implication ... Despite misgivings about various features of How to Be an Antiracist, we should fervently hope to see more work from Kendi in the months and years to come. His subject, the vexing American race question, retains a towering and tragic salience. In grappling with it, we could use Kendi’s candor, independence and willingness to be self-critical.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewTaylor manages to avoid the complacencies inculcated by the unceasingly propounded message that American methods of \'democracy\' are, of course, the best ones ... Taylor displays considerable intellectual nimbleness ... Several deficiencies weaken Taylor’s book. She does not seriously attempt to answer her first question: \'What is democracy? … What are we really referring to when we talk about a system in which the people rule themselves?\' ... All too quickly she abandons her aim of defining democracy in order to make it more than an empty slogan. Instead, she embraces the ambiguity that characterizes usage of the term, maintaining that its \'disorienting vagueness\' is a \'source of strength.\' Vagueness might be good for political actors wishing to deploy \'democracy\' to further their aims. It’s not good for analysts wishing to demystify political jargon ... A good book, Democracy May Not Exist would have been even better had Taylor let go of her idealization of \'the people\' and responded systematically to those who repudiate the assumption that broader, more active political participation by ordinary folk is a prescription for a more decent world.
PanThe Washington Post\"Alas, Finding My Voice is keenly disappointing. It suffers from faintness of voice. Jarrett’s diffidence precludes the self-revelation that a reader rightly expects of a memoir. One will not find here candid, surprising, ruminative unveilings. She does describe the unraveling of her marriage, which she portrays as the single biggest pratfall in her otherwise blessed life. But even in that portrayal, she pictures herself guilty only of naivete; the husband was an apparently good catch who proved to be rotten ... Jarrett’s account of her doings in the White House is similarly wan ... Jarrett depicts herself as a race woman, self-consciously concerned with advancing the fortunes of black Americans. But she largely overlooks the intra-racial debates that vex politically self-aware black Americans.\
David W. Blight
RaveThe Atlantic\"... magnificently expansive and detailed ... [Blight\'s] sensitive, careful, learned, creative, soulful exploration of Douglass’s grand life, however, transcends his own identity ... Keenly attuned to the politics of public memory, Blight shows that the current profusion of claims on Douglass’s legacy bears close scrutiny...\
MixedThe Washington PostMargolick is a shrewd pointillist with a keen eye for the telling detail, the revealing scene and the memorable quotation ... Although Margolick clearly admires both King and Kennedy, his commendable urge to create a realistic, intimate portrait of the two prompts him to surface actions and statements that will make devotees wince ... Impressive in certain ways, The Promise and the Dream is deficient in others. With a book of 400 pages, by a serious journalist grappling with significant, contentious issues, a reader expects a deeper, more comprehensive treatment than Margolick sometimes delivers ... Friendship arises from a mysterious alchemy. No one can reasonably expect its absence or presence to be fully explained. It is not too much to expect, however, a more rigorous effort than what one receives in The Promise and the Dream.”
MixedThe New York TimesAlthough Go Set a Watchman sporadically generates the literary force that has buoyed To Kill a Mockingbird for over half a century, the new novel is not nearly as gripping as the courtroom drama and coming-of-age story it eventually became.... In America in 1960, the story of a decent white Southerner who defends an innocent black man charged with raping a white woman had the appeal of a fairy tale and the makings of a popular movie. Perhaps even more promising, though, was the novel Lee first envisioned, the story of Jean Louise’s adult conflicts between love and fairness, decency and loyalty. Fully realized, that novel might have become a modern masterpiece.