The essays here cover enormous territory, but the distance between, say, the homeless now in San Francisco...and Acoma Pueblo warriors of the 16th century...is bridged by Solnit’s dedication to storytelling, to sharing a lexicon that galvanizes belief in amelioration ... Solnit reminds us that precision and clarity in language matter 'as gestures of respect,' a deceptively simple recognition that could be used to fortify civil discourse. She motivates with an idea that was once axiomatic: We are only as good as our word ... Solnit’s rhetorical style reflects a leviathan curiosity and a palpable pleasure in thinking things through. Her idiosyncratic lists and complex tropes are sometimes long runways for liftoffs or landings of big ideas. She’s in the business of linking ... No essay in Call Them by Their True Names is without its gems; each one uses the author’s panoramic reading in history, science, and philosophy to encourage readers’ close examination.
In this collection, she takes on issues as diverse—and to Solnit—as interconnected, as climate change, feminism, homelessness, the death penalty and the brutal founding of the state of California. The essays are witty, well researched, and pack a powerful political punch ... Preaching to the choir is not such a bad thing, she argues, in an eponymous essay. And though you may assume you are in that choir—sharing her premises and reading the same newspapers—her unique reflections provide fresh insight ... It is, in fact, her fierce exhortation of hope that binds together these essays ... A few of the essays, especially those about the 2016 election, seem dated, as so much has happened since. When you come across one of those, do not be deterred—they are mere bumps in the road of this otherwise refreshing and insightful collection.
Ms. Solnit is a capable essayist, and there’s a powerful quality to her unconventional and abrasive style, but one often gets the feeling she’s writing for a small set of her San Francisco friends. She dishes out highly spurious claims with no indication that anybody would think twice about them ... anticipating counterarguments isn’t Ms. Solnit’s thing. Far easier to denounce the enemy and enjoy the knowing nods of your friends.
In 18 essays, Solnit does exactly what the title says—she calls things by their true names: racism, sexism, crimes against people of color, environmental destruction. Solnit does not beat around the bush ... Solnit’s essay collection raises a number of important questions and provides a great deal of thought-provoking commentary on the state of America today ... Solnit’s writing is clear and persuasive, and she pushes back against language that encourages bigotry or makes facts unclear ... Solnit’s essay collection is essential reading for anyone living in America today.
While Ms. Solnit’s subjects certainly don’t make light reading, she avoids pessimism by pointing out bright spots in the American political landscape ... It is the author’s constant reminders of the benefits of activism and political action, however, that give her work a sense of optimism and prevents it from becoming overwhelming to readers ... Ultimately, Call Them by Their True Names is meant to appeal to those same discouraged progressives. While that laser focus could invite the criticism that Ms. Solnit is preaching to the choir, she explores that concept directly in a 2017 essay ... [The book's final essay is] electrifying ... [One essay's] call to readers — to stand up, to take action, to refuse the dual temptations of passivity and nihilism — is the most powerful idea in a book full of them.
The main ideas behind the book about the precision of language and power of naming are necessary and poignant, but the reality of Solnit’s essays does not always live up to this ideal. Solnit’s use of language can itself feel imprecise and untested; I often got the sense I was reading a writer who had already made up their mind without room to change it. It’s hard to open oneself up as a reader on a journey when a writer does not seem to be on one themselves ... In Call Them by Their True Names, there was less a reliance on personal narratives [than in her previous books] to demonstrate her point of view and more a reliance on ideology. This can feel automatic and impersonal when navigating subjects as monolithic as the crises Solnit has taken on. The contents of each essay could have easily been expanded to fill a book on their own ... The essays that work the best in this collection are the closest to home for Solnit ... Solnit physically moves through these spaces and knows their landscapes well. Her longtime knowledge of the San Francisco bay area and its communities comes through and breathes a freshness and complexity into her advocacy for vulnerable populations. These essays felt more like stories rather than vehicles for rhetoric, although there is of course politics wrapped up into both ... What Solnit fights for is admirable. She is clearly concerned about America’s most vulnerable populations: the homeless, the incarcerated and minorities. However...I felt Solnit lacked fairness in writing about them.
In this thought-provoking series of political essays, Solnit...attempts to diagnose the present maladies of American culture ... The collection ends with essays outlining the most successful practices of journalists and activists fighting against injustice, inequality, and ignorance. These in particular indicate what makes Solnit such a powerful cultural critic: as always, she opts for measured assessment and pragmatism over hype and hysteria.
As the author argues in this fiery clutch of essays, optimism isn’t a particularly helpful attitude ... she’s persuasive at marshaling a case for the long view while being cleareyed about the degradations of the moment ... Solnit is careful with her words (she always is) but never so much that she mutes the infuriated spirit that drives these essays.