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Curfewed Night, by Kashmiri journalist Basharat Peer, and our trip to Kashmir

Tonight, I’ve pulled from my bookshelves Curfewed Night, a 2010 book by a Kashmiri journalist, Basharat Peer

I was inspired by a customer preorder I received on my Literate Lizard Online Bookstore for My Grief, the Sun, a book of poetry by Sanna Wani, a young poet from Kashmir, who splits her time between Canada and Kashmir and often focuses on ecological themes. It comes out April 5th from House of Anansi Press:

Sharply political and frequently magical, these poems reach for everything from Hayao Miyazaki’s 1997 film Princess Mononoke to German Orientalist scholarship on early Islam. In these often intimate poems, every verse invokes ode and elegy. Love and grief sit side by side. My Grief, the Sun listens carefully to the world’s breathing, addresses the endless and ineffable you, and promises enough joy and sorrow to keep growing.

From concrete to confessional poem, exegesis to erasure, the Missinnihe River in Canada to the Zabarwan Mountains in Kashmir, Wani undoes and complicates genre and gathers the world between the poet’s hands.

It got me reminiscing about my own experience of Kashmir back in 2000, only a handful of days during two months in India, Nepal and Tibet. This period fell between the two eras covered in Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night. The first chapters cover his childhood and teen years in a village in the Anantnag district some thirty miles from the Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir. The earliest descriptions of his early 1980s boyhood gave me flutters of a yearning, or false nostalgia, for a simpler life.

In the winter, the children would play cricket on frozen ponds, and fashion sweet treats by mixing sugar and milk stolen from the kitchen with icicles broken off the roof. The men of the village would gather and gossip at storefronts, warmed by their kangris, clay pots filled with embers dangled beneath their cloaks. In the spring, the mustard fields would come ablaze with color, and once that was harvested in the summer, the fields were planted with rice. His extended family shared meals in the kitchen area of the house, sitting around a long yellow sheet laid out on the floor with Urdu and Farsi poetry inscribed on it. Although he wasn’t allowed to go, the young Basharat would avidly listen to the Bollywood tales spun by other boys who were allowed to go to the cinema in a nearby town. Brightly colored buses filled would pass through, filled with smiling ‘angrez,’ or foreign tourists, with their long hair or shaved heads. A local mullah, who still refused to believe that astronaut Neil Armstrong had landed on the moon, complained about declining devotion to Islam. 

But political tensions were rising, and by the late 1980s had reached the boiling point. India and Pakistan had been fighting over Kashmir since the Partition following India’s independence from Britain in 1947. India had been installing puppet leaders for decades, and in 1987 took it further, rigging elections, imprisoning opposition candidates and terrorizing the population. Militant freedom groups in Kashmir were on the rise, with young men traveling to Pakistan for weapons training.

At the end of 1989, a group of Kashmiri militants led by the 21-year-old Yasin Malik kidnapped the daughter of an Indian official and demanded the release of jailed activists. At first the Indian government gave in, and Kashmiris cheered the movement. But soon India responded ruthlessly, culminating in killing hundreds of pro-Independence protestors on a bridge in Srinagar. Basharat Peer was 13 years old. [Continue reading below]

Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom, by Carl Bernstein

 

Image upper left, Stephanie Maze via Getty Images; upper right Jonathan Becker, New York Times

I was captivated by Carl Bernstein’s new memoir Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom from the very first pages. It opens in 1960 with the teenage Bernstein in downtown Washington DC, forty dollars in his pocket, headed to the Woodward and Lothrop department store—Woodies, to the locals-- to buy a suit for a newspaper job interview. Bernstein describes it all so evocatively, mentioning the Hotel Harrington, Ford Theater and other neighborhood landmarks, the panhandlers and seedy shops, describing how the area emptied out at night once the government employees went home.

It was just a dozen years later, in the early 1970s, that I would haunt that neighborhood myself in my late teens: DC was my getaway spot when I wanted to escape the boring Philadelphia suburb home life of my parents. I’d hop on a Greyhound bus to the old terminal at 10th Street and New York Avenue, walk the couple blocks to the fading, inexpensive Hotel Harrington and check in. There, I would enjoy the monuments and politics of official Washington by day (and drop into Woodies), and the thrill of the vaguely seedy urban neighborhood in the evening. Once I even took in a show at the Ford Theater a block away.

It was that same dozen years later that Bernstein was gaining fame as part of the Woodward and Bernstein duo of Washington Post reporters who broke open the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon. He was 28 at the time. But back in 1960, it was touch and go as to what his future would hold:

My becoming a copyboy was really my father’s doing. He rightly feared for my future—a concern that was based on hard facts, most of them having to do with the pool hall, my report cards, and the Montgomery County Juvenile Court. It was the opinion of experts at all three institutions that the odds were against my ever mounting to much.

Bernstein’s father got him an interview at the Washington DC Evening Star newspaper.  Although the elder Bernstein was a firebrand union organizer with the United Federal Workers/United Public Workers of America, and in the early 1950s had taken his son to sit-ins at Woodies to protest segregation in its Tea Room restaurant, he had ties to the more conservative Star rather than to the more liberal Washington Post. The former had given the union more favorable coverage, while the Post’s reporting tainted it with allegations of Communist ties.

The interview was disappointing, as Bernstein was viewed as too young, but as he was escorted out of the building, he was led through the newsroom:

The door through which Rudy Kauffmann now led me opened into another universe: People were shouting. Typewriters clattered and chinged. Beneath my feet, I could feel the rumble of the presses.

In my whole life I had never heard such glorious chaos or seen such purposeful commotion as I beheld in that newsroom. By the time I had walked from one end to the other, I knew that I wanted to be a newspaperman.

He kept pestering until, at age 16, he was hired as a copy boy, and before long was given reporting assignments. His first was the neighborhood Petworth Citizen’s Association meeting in Northwest Washington DC. Petworth was a previously white neighborhood that was now 60% Black, so Bernstein was surprised to see all white faces at the meeting. [Click below to continue reading]

A Wild Idea, by Jonathan Franklin - Saving South American wildlands

Background photo of Alerce trees by Nick Hall, Nature Conservancy

I was drawn to this book because I had traveled through some of the same wilderness areas of Patagonian Argentina and Chile that Doug Tompkins helped preserve. The idea of someone who made a fortune in retail marketing (Tomkins founded The North Face and Esprit clothing companies) only to bail on corporate life and devote himself to a radical environmentalism was also intriguing.

Jonathan Franklin’s biography of Doug Tompkins, A Wild Idea, presents a mixed portrait of a complex man. I confess that at times I found the first 100 or so pages of the book to be a slog, focused on the corporation-building obsessions of a brilliant visionary who was also an arrogant narcissist. I just couldn’t get into the story of all that energy poured into building a fashion empire. Not my thing.

Actually, The North Face wasn’t the problem. Tomkins founded it in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco in 1964. He was in his early twenties, a high school dropout, the son of a New York City antiques dealer, and a man obsessed with mountaineering and other forms of adventure travel. The author describes the neighborhood as “unlike ‘The Haight,’ with its flood of youth who were seeking refugee status from mainstream America, North Beach was more like the staid ‘50s than the revolutionary ‘60s.” I wouldn’t quite agree with that ‘staid’ characterization. True, it wasn’t Haight-Ashbury, but North Beach was adjacent to the notorious Barbary Coast, with its brothels and music bars dating back to the Gold Rush era, was the site of San Francisco’s first lesbian bar in 1936, and was the heart of the Beat Generation, home to Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore.

Tomkin's style and marketing sensibilities, and his anticipation of the growing interest in adventure travel, helped him make his basement hole-in-the-wall shop a sensation, with its eclectic mix of goods, including bikini swimsuits sourced from France by his wife Susie Russell and handmade mountain climbing gear from his friend Yvon Chouinard. (Chouinard also founded an adventure clothing company, Patagonia, which he continues to run at age 83; his books include Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman)

The Grateful Dead performed at the opening of the expanded store. Joan Baez, Alan Ginsburg and Janet Joplin would drop by. A mail-order catalog featuring pencil drawings in lieu of models and photos created a nationwide surge in sales, and by 1966 two more stores had opened.

But Tompkins was uncomfortable within the constraints of running a business, even though he still managed to take off for months at a time to travel the world. In 1967, he sold The North Face for a mere $50,000. (It is interesting to note that The North Face website completely excises Doug Tompkins from its history. While it discusses the North Beach beginnings, the founder is referred to simply as an unnamed ‘hiking enthusiast’.)

Tompkins used the money in part to fund a 16000-mile overland journey from San Francisco to Patagonian Chile for an ascent of Mount Fitzroy, a challenging pinnacle that had only been summited twice before. One of his travel mates was Yvon Chouinard; the journey put their lives in danger, and the ascent nearly finished the job, including a month trapped inside an ice cave with meager provisions. But they ultimately succeeded. You can watch the film they made of their journey, Mountain of Storms, on YouTube. [Click READ MORE below]

The Authors We Lost in 2021

A Happy New Year to all. I wanted to post a list of the authors who passed away in 2021, people who brought us so much to love, to learn, to ponder. It isn’t an exhaustive list, and I'm sure everyone will have additional authors whose passing we grieve.

  • One of my loves is travel, so I’ll start out with David Roberts and Geoff Crowther. Roberts was a gifted writer, a prodigious explorer and a champion of the environment and of Native American history. You can read the appreciation I wrote an of him in this earlier blog post. Geoff Crowther was the pioneering author for Lonely Planet, the publisher whose guidebooks have accompanied budget travelers around the world for decades. Lonely Planet has expanded its offerings to all sorts of travel guides and literature, but those guidebooks like South America on a Shoestring will always be the most cherished in the hearts of many.
  • The novelists who passed away this year include Larry McMurtry, whose novels were often set in the American West. Think Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment. Anne Rice thrilled millions with her gothic horror, most notably series of books that began with Interview With the Vampire and collectively came to be called The Vampire Chronicles. Eric Jerome Dickey was one of the most successful Black authors in recent decades, and his women-centric stories appealed to a wide demographics of readers.
  • Poets include Lawrence Ferlinghetti, beat poet and founder of the famed City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco; Jean Breeze, the Jamaican queen of dub poetry performance; and Robert Bly, whose work on solitude, landscapes, war and other subjects became derailed to some in his later years as he became a guru of the ‘Men’s Movement’; and the Irish poet Thomas Kinsella.
  • The historians who themselves have now passed into history include Jonathan Spence, whose ambitious work brought China to life; James Loewen, whose books like Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong battled against the whitewashing of American history; Morris Dickstein, who wrote cultural histories of subjects like the Great Depression and the Sixties; Ved Mehta, chronicler of his native India; and Donald Kagan, who wrote about ancient Greece.
  • Those who chronicled and shaped to social movements we’ve lived through include the remarkable Joan Didion, one of the pioneers of New Journalism; Janet Malcolm, whose deep-dive journalism was a highlight of the New Yorker magazine; bell hooks, thew pioneering writer of Black feminism and intersectional politics; Mary Catherine Bateson, daughter of anthropologist Margaret Mead, whose 1989 book Composing a Life was an inspiration to women struggling to make sense of motherhood, sexism, racism, and building a career; Eve Babitz, who brought L.A. celebrity culture to life; Lawrence Otis Graham and Charles W. Mills, both of whom wrote about structural racism in America; Lucinda Franks, first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting; Linda McAlister, the philosopher who founded Hypatia, the first major scholarly journal of feminist philosophy; and Elizabeth Martínez, the feminist writer and community activist who helped organize the Chicana movement.
  • Among the children’s book authors who have left us are Beverly Cleary, creator of Ramona and Beezus Quimby and many other beloved characters; Eric Carle, who created The Very Hungry Caterpillar and many others of the most beloved picture books for the toddler set; Gary Paulson, whose Young Adult books like Hatchet introduced readers to life on the edge in nature; and Jerry Pinkney, whose writing and illustrating emphasized Black characters and themes.

Thoughts on the Alice Sebold controversy over her memoir 'Lucky'

This ugly, difficult situation over Alice Sebold’s bestselling 1999 memoir about her rape, and the exoneration last week of the black man wrongly convicted of that rape, is an intersectional nightmare in my view. Sexual violence against a woman, racist assumptions and wrongful imprisonment against a black man, plus police and prosecutor corruption created a tragedy, and the fact that neither Sebold nor her publisher Scribner seem willing to even apologize is infuriating.

[Update: After eight days, Sebold issued a 400 word apology earlier today. I’ll address the apology below.] [Update 2: Scribner has pulled the book. In their statement, they say “Following the recent exoneration of Anthony Broadwater, and in consultation with the author, Scribner and Simon & Schuster will cease distribution … while Sebold and Scribner together consider how the work might be revised,” Sebold’s UK publisher Pan Macmillan has also pulled the title.]

Sebold’s memoir, Lucky, recounts her 1981 rape as a 19-year-old student at Syracuse University. The title stems from a police officer telling her she was “lucky” to be alive because someone had raped and then murdered his victim in the same place. Sebold suffered from PTSD and addiction troubles for years.

She told police it had been a black man, but the composite sketch drawn from her description was inconclusive. A rape kit was done. Months passed with no arrests. Then, nearly six full months later, Sebold spotted a Black man on Marshall Street near Syracuse University. As Sebold describes it in her memoir, 

He was smiling as he approached. He recognized me. It was a stroll in the park to him; he had met an acquaintance on the street. ‘Hey, girl,’ he said. ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’ I knew him, but I could not make myself speak. I needed all my energy to focus on believing I was not under his control again….

“I did not respond,” Sebold wrote. She wrote that she was too afraid to call out: “That’s the man who raped me!” Instead, she kept walking as she said she heard him laughing.

He had no fear. It had been nearly six months since we’d seen each other last. Six months since I lay under him in a tunnel on top of a bed of broken glass. He was laughing because he had gotten away with it, because he had raped before me, and because he would rape again. My devastation was a pleasure for him. He was walking the streets, scot-free

Sebold went to the police, who searched the area without success. Then a police officer suggested the name of Anthony Broadwater, a Black man they had seen in the area. The police picked him up and placed him in a police line-up for Sebold to identify. Looking at the line-up through one-way glass, Sebold identified the wrong man in the line-up. Regarding this, Sebold wrote: “the expression in his eyes told me that if we were alone, if there were no wall between us, he would call me by name and then kill me”. [Click READ MORE below]

We Had a Little Real Estate Problem, by Kliph Nesteroff

This book, We Had a Little Real Estate Problem: The Unheralded Story of Native Americans and Comedy, by Kliph Nesteroff was published last February, but recently caught my eye. Native American  history, culture and politics...plus comedy! Given that my wife performs stand-up comedy, how could I resist? And given the fact that those saintly Pilgrims so mythologized at Thanksgiving actually offered bounties for the scalps of Native American men, women and children, this seemed a suitable counter-programming review for Thanksgiving week.

The book’s title comes from a favorite joke of Charlie Hill, a member of the Oneida Nation and one of the best-known Native American comedians: “My people are from Wisconsin. We used to be from New York. We had a little real estate problem.

While there are examples of comic routines by Native Americans throughout the book, it is actually much more of a social and political history than I expected. Take the life of Charlie Hill, for example. Hill was born in 1951 to a family with a long history of its own. His grandmother had graduated what was then called the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia, and was the second Native American woman physician in the country. He was enamored with the comedy he saw in the early days of television, though even as a child he could see the negative stereotypes of Native Americans that percolated through not only through Western series but also sitcoms like Dennis the Menace, Petticoat Junction, The Beverly Hillbillies, Get Smart, Mister Ed, The Munsters, and more. The book cites at length an episode of I Love Lucy, in which Ricky Ricardo is auditioning people to play Indians in his nightclub show:

Lucy Ricardo, unaware that her husband is holding auditions in their home, answers the door when a pair of sitcom Native Americans arrive on her doorstep. She screams in terror and runs around the living room in a spell of racist paranoia, convinced the men are there to scalp, steal, or murder her newborn baby. With the help of her friend Ethyl Mertz, Lucy bashes them over the skull with a flower vase and knocks them unconscious. Ricky explains the mix-up to his wife and a mortified Lucy helps the beleaguered men to their feet.

 LUCY: Mr. Indian, oh, me heap big sorry me smack-um on coco.

ACTOR: Huh?

LUCY: Oh, you speak English?

ACTOR: [in Bronx accent] Soitenly I speak English! Whaddaya tryna do? Murder me?

Earlier in his childhood, the young Charlie Hill, peeking out of his bedroom as his parents watched the Tonight Show with Jack Paar in 1961, saw Black comedian Dick Gregory do a routine. Not only was the humor political, but Gregory even did a joke about Native Americans!

“About three months ago I worked up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and everybody told me, ‘Greg, you’ll love the state of Minnesota. We have terrific civil rights laws. And in this state you’d never know you’re Negro.’ That’s true—because they’re too busy picking on the Indians. If the Indians ever pack their bags and leave the state of Minnesota, I’ll be getting on the next train out of there.”

It seems Minnesota has had a policing problem for a long time. The Minneapolis Police, in order to meet their arrest quotas, would prowl the bars frequented by Native Americans around Fourth Street, arresting on average 200 per week to be sent to do unpaid labor. The American Indian Movement (AIM), the famous grassroots activist organization patterned after the Black Panthers, got its start in Minneapolis. [Click READ MORE below]

Black Lives Matter, then and now - 'Until I Am Free' and 'Say Their Names'

I am clear, we are clear, that the only plan for us, for Black people living in the United States--en masse, if not individually--is all tied up to the architecture of punishment and containment. We are resolute in our call to dismantle it.” — Patrice Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, 2018

The only thing I really feel is necessary is that black people...will have to actually upset this apple-cart….The only way we can make this thing a reality in America is to do all we can to destroy this system and bring this thing out to the light that has been under the cover all these years.” — Fannie Lou Hamer, civil rights activist,1965

Strong words, words spoken over fifty years apart.

Two books published this week, Say Their Names: How Black Lives Came to Matter in America, by Curtis Bunn, Michael H. Cottman, Patrice Gaines, Nick Charles, and Keith Harriston; and Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America, by Keisha N. Blain, are powerful testaments to the continuing struggle for racial justice in the United States and abroad. Though the two books are nominally about different generations in the struggle, both explicitly shape their narratives around the events of the other. In Until I Am Free, Keisha Blain introduces each chapter about Fannie Lou Hamer’s life and activism with a story about one of the recent Black Lives Matter tragedies, such as Sandra Bland or Breonna Taylor. And Say Their Names draws on the entire history of racial strife in America to tell the story of the modern Black Lives Matter movement.

Black Lives Matter may very well be the largest social movement in history, with 26 million members across 60 countries. Say Their Names tells the origin story of BLM, from the unnecessary deaths of Black people at the hands of police that inspired it to the threatening backlash by white supremacists and harassment by police. It covers the various forms the protests have taken, such as the on-field demonstrations by sports figures.  The widespread support by athletes drew harsh backlash from Trump World and wobbly, often hypocritical reactions from team owners, such as the white owners of NBA teams publicly offering support but privately donating money to GOP candidates and anti-BLM groups.

The complications of inspiring a widespread social movement are covered as well. The book takes a look at some of the internal dissension that occurred in the BLM movement over things like the organization of local chapters, and financial transparency. The expanded flow of corporation money to Black causes spurred much discussion:

 “Some call it ‘throwing money at the problem.’ At the same time, money speaks loudly. And having money makes it possible to do things, close gaps, cross bridges. It also amplified an undeniable fact: Black lives began to matter, at least on the surface.”

While Black Lives Matter came into being after the 2012 fatal shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin, much of Say Their Names focuses on the resurgence last year after the killing of George Foster. The tension of protesting in large groups during a pandemic is discussed, including the idea of not wearing a mask during a protest as a political choice: See My Face as analogous to Say My Name. The rightwing backlash emphasized the property damage during the mostly peaceful protests, always prioritizing property over the lives of those fighting for justice. The attitude is part of a long line of racist tropes that Black people are too aggressive, dangerous, lacking in self-control.

Like the deaths of Blacks at the hands of police, the pandemic is seen having helped bring to the surface the drastic inequalities rooted in racism. Blacks died of Covid-19 at greater rates than whites due to the many forms of health and economic disparities embedded in the U.S. system: poverty, low-paid work in ‘essential’ jobs, exposure to greater environmental poisons, food deserts where supermarkets won’t locate in Black neighborhoods, the drag on the immune system from the endless stress of daily microaggressions and threats, and poor patient care. (Click READ MORE below!)

Alyssa Milano is Sorry Not Sorry

Reading Alyssa Milano’s new book of essays, Sorry Not Sorry, feels like having an uplifting, energizing and hilarious conversation with a passionate, literate, well-informed, fearless and outspoken friend, and if your politics run liberal you will find the book to be a total delight. Through its 32 short chapters, the topics run through racism, Black Lives Matter, patriarchy, the #MeToo movement, taxes, healthcare, prison reform, the Supreme Court, voting rights, Q-anon and MAGA, and so much more.

As she weaves through these topics, you’ll look back on the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. You’ll ponder political discourse by way of Virgil’s Aeneid. You’ll be taken to impoverished villages in war-torn Angola. The concept of being a political ally is illuminated by the biblical story of Shimei and David. You’ll read about the early days of penicillin.

Wait, I can sense you thinking. I thought you said this would be ‘uplifting, energizing and hilarious?’ Okay, then try these excerpts. On Donald Trump:

That man never in his life uttered a substantial sentence that didn’t end with “and I want fries with that.”

On taxes and the wealthy:

I’m even angrier at those of us who complain about taxes, who do everything they can to avoid paying taxes, and who work to make sure tax money doesn’t go to those who need it most. People who claim a net worth of billions and pay taxes of $750, for example. People who have the money to have capital gains, and who also have the audacity to think this income should somehow be less taxable than the honest wages of a dishwasher making ten dollars an hour. The entitled investor, the bully billionaire, the selfish beneficiary of a large inheritance. The entitled elite.

Nearly universally, these are people who have never known hardship. These are people who grew up in wealth and whose idea of austerity means vacationing on this continent instead of on another. These are people who make their wealth on the backs of the hard work of others—who often pay higher tax rates than they themselves do, at much lower incomes—and who feel entitled to every last benefit they get while deriding those who need help. They sicken me, and the lawmakers who make sure they are first at the trough sicken me even more.

Click READ MORE below

The Shattering: America in the 1960s, by Kevin Boyle

I had a 1960s boyhood, growing up in San Jose, California, just 50 miles from San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland, where so many of the influential events of the decade took place. I can’t say any of it had much influence on my life back then. My parents were Republican-leaning, though not rabidly conservative, and my paternal grandparents were New Deal Democrats. I had other nearby relatives who I now realize were John Birchers, but their politics were peripheral to our lives. I recall the major news of the era, the assassinations and riots and Vietnam. I recall the mother of a family who watched me after school looking out her kitchen window at me playing with a Black boy, one of the very few in the neighborhood, and duly reporting it to my mother, who was unconcerned. I recall my grammar school policing skirt lengths of the students, but also teaching about the evils of racism. My politics through high school generally reflected the low-key conservatism of my parents.

But while my childhood feels as if it skirted the 1960s, I fully understand that the decade has had an enormous influence on my post-Sixties adulthood. As I read more widely, as my family moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia in 1969, and I moved into a diverse Philly neighborhood in 1976, as I began traveling the world, my politics became more and more liberal. And at the heart of my liberal politics were the continuing clashes over social policies and mores unleashed during the Sixties.

Kevin Boyle’s new book The Shattering: America in the 1960s offers a deep dive into how the decade shattered the complacency that dominated much of America in the post-WWII years, while also taking a look backward at the powerful currents of non-complacency simmering among certain sectors. It also offers a look forward at how the conservative backlash has evolved into the toxic ideology of today.

In 1960, the population was over 85% white, and immigrants’ share of the population was the lowest it had been in over a century. 72% of adults were married, and 88% of school-age children lived in two-parent households. Boyle cites sociologist Daniel Bell’s influential essay The End of Ideology, in which he posited that the political battles between right and left had been exhausted by the New Deal and the Second World War, and that all that remained was to tinker around the edges, a “middle way for the middle-aged.”

Boyle does a good job of showing the fissures beneath that complacent veneer in the late 1940s and 1950s: the Republican turn toward stoking anti-Communist panic, as well as the Lavender Scare pushed against LGBTQ people; the expansion of the suburbs and the demolition of urban neighborhoods; the concessions Roosevelt had made in limiting access to New Deal programs in exchange for securing the support of the southern states dominated by Democratic Party segregationists; the long civil rights struggle leading up to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education desegregating schools and the bitter backlash it created. 

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The Book of Hope, by Jane Goodall, the 87 year old naturalist icon

I want to believe there’s hope. I really do. But it’s so hard to muster that feeling sometimes. Perhaps, at age 66, I'm too young, for here is the 87 year old Jane Goodall offering to lift me up in The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times, just published today.

The book was co-written with Douglas Abrams, who also wrote The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. This new book employsJane Goodall and her new book The Book of Hope the same technique as that earlier one: it is primarily written by Abrams, based on and using extensive quotes from conversations he had with his subjects. I admit to finding Abrams’ style a bit annoying, both in the previous book and the new one; he can inject himself too much in the conversation, or at other times adopt a gee-whiz attitude of adulation that feels a bit treacly. Still, he knows how to choose powerful voices to discuss urgent subjects.

After reading The Book of Hope, my admiration for Jane Goodall has only increased. Woven throughout the book is the story of her remarkable life. There is her courageous, improbable beginning, talking her way into working with renowned paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey in Kenya in her twenties, and gaining his trust for an assignment into the Tanzania wilderness to study chimpanzees, research she has continued for sixty years. There is her decades of activism on environmentalism and climate change, conservation, social justice, and animal welfare. There is her gutsy elderhood, constantly traveling the world to bring her message to different groups, always eager to be continually learning. There is her devotion to empowering the next generations, as with her Roots & Shoots Program, her activist training for youth operating in nearly 100 countries.

But do I feel any more hopeful? Not really.

Goodall knows it isn’t easy. In the introduction to the book, one of the few sections fully in her own words, she writes:

We are going through dark times.

There is armed conflict in many parts of the world, racial and religious discrimination, hate crimes, terrorist attacks, a political swing to the far right fueling demonstrations and protests that, all too often, become violent. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening and fomenting anger—and unrest. Democracy is under attack in many countries. On top of all that, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing so much suffering and death, loss of jobs, and economic chaos around the world. And the climate crisis, temporarily pushed into the background, is an even greater threat to our future—indeed, to all life on Earth as we know it….”Jane is almost ninety years old,” you may be thinking. “If she is aware of what’s going on in the world, how can she still be writing about hope. She is probably giving in to wishful thinking. She is not facing up to the facts.”

I am facing up to the facts. And on many days I admit that I feel depressed, days when it seems that the efforts, the struggles, the sacrifices of so many people fighting for social and environmental justice, fighting prejudice and racism and greed, are fighting a losing battle. The forces raging around us—greed, corruption, hatred, blind prejudice—are ones we might be foolish to think we can overcome….

I have met so many people who have told me they have lost hope for the future. Young people especially have been angry, depressed or just apathetic because, they’ve told me, we have compromised their future and they feel there is nothing they can do about it. But while it is true that we have not just compromised but stolen their future as we have relentlessly plundered the finite resources of our planet with no concern for future generations, I do not believe it is too late to put things right.

Probably the question I am asked more often than any other is: Do you honestly believe there is hope for our world. For the future of our children and grandchildren?

And I am able to answer truthfully, yes.

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