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Eula Biss is a talented writer with interesting life experiences, and many of the essays in this collection are lyrical explorations of her thinking. With the theme of race interwoven throughout her writings, this makes for a thought-provoking book, and one capable of passionate discussion, e.g., in a book group.
That said, the author seems to use the personal essay format as permission to put forth her most superficial views, often poorly researched if at all. For example, she begins the book by stating the oft-repeated conclusion that there is no biological basis for race, which is therefore a purely social construct. Even the most casual research shows that this is wishful thinking and scientifically incorrect (see, Race Is Seen as Real Guide To Track Roots of Disease, By Nicholas Wade, Published: July 30, 2002 in the New York Times). What the author means is that the biological differences are exceedingly minor and cannot support all the behavioral claims or segregationists, etc., but this is no excuse to misstate facts. Similarly, the author later boldly states that the historical record is completely devoid of documentation of a certain practice, as if she has actually reviewed the historical record in its entirety.
Personally, my aha moment was realizing that racism can be thought of as merely a subset of the more general shunning of otherness. And this is why I think of the book as, at best, a well written series of essays based on the most lightweight analysis of the purported subject matter. The author describes some of the most atrocious examples of racism, but seems to see these only as stemming from the bad traits of certain members of the currently predominant racial group—rather than something universal in the human condition. This produces a lot of guilt on the author’s part, but little understanding much less any prescription for improvement.
Perhaps I owe the author thanks for making me think about this by writing much I found to disagree with.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
This collection of sharply observed essays on race and racial identity in America weaves autobiographical and historical elements you've never seen before.
Biss observes hypocrisy without throwing around accusations, becoming all the more persuasive for it.
Her words draw you in, to look through her eyes and to follow her agile mind, finding connections where you may not expect them.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful