Rebecca Solnit attempts to unearth the roots of our contemporary crises by balancing the despair of our age with a dose of solidarity, creativity, and hope while focusing on the power of language and "names" to mold and change minds.
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.