Snap Judgment: Books

Occidentalism by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit

Islamic jihadists don't have a monopoly on hating the West. As this slim volume shows, West-bashers have a long pedigree, from Japanese intellectuals to Russian Slavophiles. The authors gather their dehumanizing images of the West under the rubric of Occidentalism. But even more interesting than the examples is the key insight that "most revolts against Western imperialism have borrowed from Western ideas." That makes confronting them all the more difficult--but is something of a victory in itself.
--William Dobson

I Am Black and I Don't Like Manioc by Gaston Kelman

The idea that garbage collection is for black people is an enduring prejudice in France. But when even blacks take it for granted, it's time for action, warns this Cameroon-born French author. With humor and conviction, Kelman debunks the racial cliches inherited from colonial times as well as the myth of victimization. The book has touched a nerve in France at a time when questions of integration center on Arabs and Muslims. As the debate over wearing overtly religious symbols in public shows, the country cannot simply ignore its multicultural identity. And should not, as Kelman makes clear, leave anyone out of the discussion.
--Marie Valla

The Accidental Connoisseur: An Irreverent Journey Through the Wine World by Lawrence Osborne

In an attempt to determine what makes good wine good, Osborne travels to Italy, France and California for a firsthand education in such things as "varietal character," wine aroma wheels and the all-important terroir. He offers amusing anecdotes of his experiences, such as visiting a "garage winery" in Bordeaux, all the while searching for just the right adjective to describe the beverage before him. Osborne ultimately reveals a highly commercialized and trendy industry. But insecure bouquet sniffers will revel in the company of a kindred spirit.
--Christina B. Gillham