cover image Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays)

Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays)

Rebecca Solnit. Haymarket, $15.95 trade paper (166p) ISBN 978-1-60846-329-9

In this thought-provoking series of political essays, Solnit (The Mother of All Questions) attempts to diagnose the present maladies of American culture. These afflictions include a preference for outrage instead of dialogue, police brutality and the mass incarceration of African-American men, and gentrification and economic inequality. The most trenchantly addressed problem is that of American isolationism, a slippery slope, as Solnit explains: “If you begin by denying social and ecological systems, then you end by denying the reality of facts, which are... part of a network of systematic relationships among language, physical reality, and the record.” Solnit argues throughout that truthful language is vital, and that “one of the crises of the moment is linguistic,” thanks in large part to misleading speech by President Trump. He is described as suffering from a malady himself, one contracted when one is constantly surrounded by sycophants and deprived of normal human interaction and “the most rudimentary training in dealing with setbacks.” (Solnit does not offer these as excuses, merely explanations.) 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. (Sept.)