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Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word (Vintage) [Paperback]

Randall Kennedy
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
Price: £9.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over £10. Details
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Book Description

1 July 2003 Vintage
It’s “the nuclear bomb of racial epithets,” a word that whites have employed to wound and degrade African Americans for three centuries. Paradoxically, among many black people it has become a term of affection and even empowerment. The word, of course, is nigger, and in this candid, lucidly argued book the distinguished legal scholar Randall Kennedy traces its origins, maps its multifarious connotations, and explores the controversies that rage around it.

Should blacks be able to use nigger in ways forbidden to others? Should the law treat it as a provocation that reduces the culpability of those who respond to it violently? Should it cost a person his job, or a book like Huckleberry Finn its place on library shelves? With a range of reference that extends from the Jim Crow south to Chris Rock routines and the O. J. Simpson trial, Kennedy takes on not just a word, but our laws, attitudes, and culture with bracing courage and intelligence.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House USA; 1st Vintage Books Ed edition (1 July 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375713719
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375713712
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.2 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 591,604 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Un-biased open minded study 23 Feb 2002
Format:Hardcover
This book should be read by everyone. The grey shroud surrounding this word is analyzed with a full on and realistic account of its uses, history and its future. White people and black people alike would learn from this book, and anyone who opposes the word should definately read this well structured argument. This area has little work, and this is an essential read. Also its worth while to Check out many of Geneva Smithermans books for a more linguistic approach.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sense not sensibility 5 Feb 2002
Format:Hardcover
In this intelligent and valuable book, Randall Kennedy strips away the myth and legend surrounding the N-word. With honesty and a true sense of justice, Kennedy explores the origin of the word, from latin via slavery, to contemporary usage. He expertly describes its place in the American legal system and case law. Presenting a balanced view of legal decisions and place of the N-word in US history, whilst maintaining the dignity of the African American experience. Everyone should read this fascinating book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A book EVERYBODY should read 30 Aug 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Why does this word still have so much negative power? This book offers some interesting answers as Kennedy explores its origins and use.

Everybody really needs to read this book.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real eye opener 27 Dec 2004
Format:Paperback
i would reccomend this book to everyone, as think all people - black and of other ethnic identities wil benifit from the insight the author offers on a word that has disparate shades of meaning.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  67 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exploring the Strange Life of a Complex Word 2 Mar 2002
By Cheryl D. Fields - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As someone who has spent nearly a decade writing about race relations in the U.S., I couldn't read this book fast enough.
Kennedy offers a well-timed examination of a word that appears to be experiencing a revival of public usage. I didn't agree with all of his conclusions, but the book certainly provokes critical thought. I especially appreciated the section that lays out how the word has been considered by the U.S. courts.
This book should be mandatory reading for all Americans. It is a worthy addition to any to high school or college social studies syllabus, and a good choice for book clubs that welcome heated debate.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I wish I could read the book he didn't write ... 9 Oct 2011
By Wendell Ricketts - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If the question is scholarship and clarity, no fault can be found with Randall Kennedy's [N-word]: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word. And if that is so, what makes Kennedy's book so ultimately unsatisfying? Perhaps it is the sense that Kennedy, who is eternally fair-minded (at times, perhaps, even to a fault), never quite seems to get his arms entirely around his topic. Indeed, if Kennedy is always rational in pronouncing his phlegmatic judgments on various famous and infamous uses of the "troublesome" word, the fact is that his reasons for considering one episode defensible and identifying another as certifiably hateful and racist are not entirely coherent. To say it another way, if the reader were to ask Kennedy to define when, by whom, and under what circumstances "[N-word]" can be deployed legitimately, it is doubtful that he could express a practical philosophy, even in the broadest of terms. Or to put the matter in still other words, Kennedy is just like many of the rest of us: appalled by the use of the word in contexts in which it is clearly intended to injure, more than occasionally troubled by its prevalence in everyday discourse, ambivalent about its modern-day dispersal as a (quite literal) shibboleth, and intellectually muddled over how to confront the word in its undeniable position as both linguistic fingerprint and American literary instrument. But if that is the case, what purpose does Kennedy's book actually serve? Those who have spent any time at all thinking about the word and its uses (and, by extension, about American-style racism) won't find, in [N-word], much they didn't already know; those who haven't considered the topic are unlikely to read such a book; and those looking for legitimation and permission (it is, after all, a black man saying that even white people sometimes have the right to say "[N-word]") will go away with their oversimplifications intact. In fairness to Kennedy and his obvious gravitas, perhaps we are meant to content ourselves with just what his subtitle--The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word--suggests: a linguistic-historical review. The major disappointment of [N-word], however, is that, having spent 200 pages laying the perfect groundwork from which to launch a potentially enlightening discussion, Kennedy closes the book. One suspects that a writer and thinker with Kennedy's clear admiration for scholarly exactitude might have provided both significant insight and indispensable reflection on the matter, but he rarely goes beneath the surface. We cannot know whether Kennedy's courage failed him or whether he simply lost interest in the subject, but [N-word] is one of those cases in which the reader has every right to regret the book that wasn't written. (P.S. As if to underscore some of the points Kennedy makes, Amazon refused to post this review with the actual title word in it - that word is on Amazon's "bad word" list and triggers an automatic rejection of the review. That is, quite frankly, exactly the kind of stupidity that Kennedy takes aim at.)
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to open minds 25 Feb 2005
By Kevin J. Lang - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
What I expected was some sort of "Angry black man' book. What was interesting is that he let the facts speak for themselves; keeping a lot of his personal views out of it. His writing style definitely revealed a bad taste in his mouth but he kept true to why he was writing this. I read this cover to cover (repeating a chapter or 4) with in a week. Normally I read 3 books at a time but this one demanded my attention. I read that a lot of people find this book inadequate. If they want to think so - fine. However, no single 208 page book is going to be able to nail this subject down perfectly. He had made his point profoundly and left a person wanting more; which is a sign of a good author.
35 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reviewed on National Public Radio 10 Jan 2002
By Verne Robinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I learned of this amazing work from an interview with the author on National Public Radio while driving home. Couldn't get to a computer fast enough and logon to ... to order it.
I had no idea why this word is so bad. Now I do. Oh, my God! The author brought back memories of the horrible things done to blacks. He made it clear why this word is said only to harm and hurt. His presentation was like cold water dumped on me - I forgot what it was like in the south when I was a kid.
People get fired from jobs for saying it, sued, and worse! I am grateful to the author for a much needed and overdue book on this topic. Those of us in media and law desperately need this!
Everyone should be made aware that the N-word is a HATE word. It is meant only to injure a human being.
Interestingly, Kennedy trapped me with pages of N-word jokes from a KKKomedy web site. He makes it easy to see how seductive it is to laugh at these jokes. That is sobering in itself. His writing is so clear, easy to follow, and illuminating - a Rhodes Scholar, indeed! Bravo Kennedy! A perfect little book about a huge problem. Well done.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great history book. 6 Mar 2002
By Anthony J. Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I decided to buy this book after seeing it on 60 minutes and Boston Public. I must admit that I had to buy this book on Amazon because I am white and I didn't feel comfortable buying a book with such a racially charged word as the title. None the less I am glad I bought this book. I will admit that when it comes to African American history I am pretty ignorant and this book helped rid me of some of the ignorance. I am not a racist person but I really need to learn more about African American culture. I was brought up in an almost all white area and many people in my family have racist views. This book gave me a look in a society that I would not have normally seen... I really recommend this book to any one of any race in any country.
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