Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities

Rate this book
A book as powerful and influential as Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, her Hope in the Dark was written to counter the despair of radicals at a moment when they were focused on their losses and had turned their back to the victories behind them—and the unimaginable changes soon to come. In it, she makes a radical case for hope as a commitment to act in a world whose future remains uncertain and unknowable. Drawing on her decades of activism and a wide reading of environmental, cultural, and political history, Solnit argued that radicals have a long, neglected history of transformative victories, that the positive consequences of our acts are not always immediately seen, directly knowable, or even measurable, and that pessimism and despair rest on an unwarranted confidence about what is going to happen next. Now, with a moving new introduction explaining how the book came about and a new afterword that helps teach us how to hope and act in our unnerving world, she brings a new illumination to the darkness of 2016 in an unforgettable new edition of this classic book.

188 pages, ebook

First published April 1, 2004

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Rebecca Solnit

100 books6,898 followers
Writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit is the author of more than twenty books on feminism, western and indigenous history, popular power, social change and insurrection, wandering  and walking, hope and disaster, including Call Them By Their True Names (Winner of the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction), Cinderella LiberatorMen Explain Things to Me, The Mother of All Questions, and Hope in the Dark, and co-creator of the City of Women map, all published by Haymarket Books; a trilogy of atlases of American cities, The Faraway NearbyA Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in DisasterA Field Guide to Getting LostWanderlust: A History of Walking, and River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West (for which she received a Guggenheim, the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism, and the Lannan Literary Award). Her forthcoming memoir, Recollections of My Nonexistence, is scheduled to release in March, 2020. A product of the California public education system from kindergarten to graduate school, she is a columnist at the Guardian and a regular contributor to Literary Hub.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
3,207 (33%)
4 stars
3,737 (39%)
3 stars
1,985 (20%)
2 stars
485 (5%)
1 star
96 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,273 reviews
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 3 books3,378 followers
Shelved as 'didntfinish-yet'
February 10, 2017
I'm a big fan of Rebecca Solnit — deep and moving essayist, unapologetic feminist and activist, inventor of the term "mansplaining," all-around brilliant gal. I cannot recommend strongly enough that you follow her on FB, where she is in the midst of a tireless campaign of resistance, deligitimizing our Horror-in-Chief, and spreading action steps so we can all do the same.

And I'm editing this part of my review, because I do not wish to stop anyone from either reading this book or from feeling hope in general in these harrowing times. For me, personally, I found this to be the absolute wrong moment to read it, because right now, having hope is not something I feel capable of. But if it works for you, please, by all means, grab it and hold on tight.

To clarify my point, though: This is a series of essays about people power and direct action and quiet revolutions and radical upheavals, from Seattle to Bolivia to Berlin, from the Zapatistas to the WTO strikes to the fight for marriage equality. Those are unquestionably great, great moments, beautiful confluences where, by luck or chance or design, people came together to make great strides. But this book was written in 2005, just after Bush was reelected (remember those halcyon days when George fucking W was the worst Republican we could fathom?!), to bolster progressives in the face of the War on Terror and its associated awfulnesses. So, for example, early on you have this passage:

In the past couple of years two great waves of despair have come in — or perhaps waves is too energetic a term since the despair felt like a stall, a becalming, a running aground. The more recent despair was over the presidential election in the US, thought as Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano commented, George W. Bush was running for President of the World. And he won, despite the opposition of most of the people in the world, despite the polls, despite the fact that a majority of US voters did not choose him — or John Kerry; 40% of the electorate stayed home, despite a surge of organization and activism by progressives and leftists who didn't even agree with Kerry on so very much, despite the terrible record of violence and destruction Bush had accrued, despite the stark disaster the Iraq war had become. He won. Which is to say the world lost.

And suddenly I couldn't hear myself think over the sound of history catastrophically repeating itself. I couldn't see these words through my fucking rage-tears. To reiterate: Hope is not something I can feel at all right now, and it's definitely not something I can get from this book today, in the Year of Our Lord 2016, when the walking embodiment of toxic masculinity and inarticulate xenophobia is about to take the helm of this goddamn country.

Fuck hope. Fuck everything.

But, again, if this helps you, by all means read it and love it. And then let's get fucking ready to fight.
Profile Image for Lea.
892 reviews193 followers
February 7, 2017
I found this a rather disappointing and disjointed book, that depressed me more than it gave me hope. Maybe because it was written pre-Trump and a lot of the hopeful thing she says just seem more and more naive with each day. Yes, she gives some examples of hope campaigning and fighting for the right things can change and move, and how we often can't see the impact our positive actions have right away. But overall it was just a reminder of how big the beast is we're up against. Especially when she mentioned climate change? Boy, I've been so depressed

While the book was depressing, that's not enough to only give it two stars. I also felt it wasn't really informative and kinda all over the place. And I really disliked how she put the bogus Anti-GMO movement next to important human rights & other political campaining. Fearmongering and anti-science is really nothing that gives me "hope in the dark"...
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews964 followers
April 20, 2020
Written in response to the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq, but rereleased in early 2016 in the wake of America’s deteriorating political climate, Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark puts forth a lucid thesis: hope is “an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable,” and in “the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.” The book consists of several short essays that survey overlooked environmental, cultural, and political victories over the past five decades. Stressing that change rarely is absolute, immediate, or straightforward, the essayist convincingly argues for approaching civic engagement as a way of life, fueled by the belief that a more just world is always possible. The speed at which Solnit synthesizes disparate ideas is astounding, and her hopefulness is as inspiring and moving as it ever has been.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,566 reviews1,896 followers
December 20, 2018
I have been aware of Rebecca Solnit as the name of a writer for a while, a name which is curiously melodious to my ear - simply another sign perhaps that my hearing is not so good, in addition to my chronic difficulties with my eustachian tubes I had certainly read some book reviews, something about feminism, something about walking, I would not have predicted her wide ranging engagement in political activism and her Bonobo-like joy in strange bedfellows.

This is a book written at the time of the younger US President Bush (with some updates) and pitched at the political left (broadly conceived) as an antidote to despair and hopelessness. Although she thinks of despair as a problem particularly prevalent to the political left, I think you could with one exception read her book inside-out from other political perspectives.

The exception is interesting and the off centre core of her vision, despair and hopelessness she thinks occur because of the Judeo-Christian / Abrahamic element in some cultures - the idea that we live in a fallen world. Perfection was the Eden, that Paradise, that Man and Woman were cast out of due to their disobedience. For Solnit lasting hope comes only through the embrace of other cultural traditions that all the imperfection and perhaps the imperfectability of the world, virtue by itself doesn't triumph and never can, only mutual effort between strange bedfellows based on shared common ground, act local :think global , she says.

Her pitch, reasonably enough, is to the emotions: "hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa & clutch...hope is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures & the grinding down of the poor & marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action" (p.4)

History she says offers another antidote to hopelessness - look how things have been in the past, consider that everything could be worse, be aware of what changes in attitudes and habits have had to come about to make possible such justice as there is in the world and the long road from the Divine right of Kings to today, it is an an ecological book, full of scattered seeds germinating unexpectedly, curious connecting branches, new ideas and changes becoming so deeply and firmly rooted that we take them for granted. Contingencies, process, change. Here History as a garden, rich with processes of growth and decay.

This is a book which is above all charming and wise, and while I did draw in my breath, sharply at her enumeration of certain election victories and delayed oil pipelines, seeing now some years later that none of these was permanent and maybe not much to celebrate in the first place but from her kinder perspective I had a sense that a change of government due to the content of ballot boxes is itself something huge (and bigger still in certain countries in which this has not yet become an established habit) and considering the advantages that oil companies have at their disposal, even delaying them is an achievement. A hopeful book.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,521 reviews9,011 followers
July 23, 2017
4.5 stars

An imaginative and intelligent examination of the importance of cultivating hope in the midst of social justice movements. This essay collection includes an array of thought-provoking ideas, including viewing activism as a process and not just an outcome, the skill of honoring small victories while acknowledging larger battles, and using hope as a self-aware source of motivation to fuel further action. Though Hope in the Dark first came out in response to the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq, many of its lessons apply to how awful, racist, sexist, etc. our country stands within the hands of Trump. Rebecca Solnit achieves depth by creating a cohesive, inspiring, and urgent argument about the importance of hope, and she achieves breadth by applying this argument to feminism, gay rights, climate justice, Native American activism, and more. One of the passages that stood out to me the most and made my heart soar:

"I say all this because hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say it because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope. To hope is to give yourself to the future,, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable."

Overall, a great book I would recommend for those who feel burned out or beaten down within their fights for justice. On a side note, this book helped me process my grief about the cancellation of my favorite TV show, which I write about here. I look forward to carrying this book's lessons into my future, which I will fill with actions and thoughts and hope.
April 8, 2022

Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest

DNF @ 40%

Rebecca Solnit is one of my favorite feminist essayists and when she's on her game, she is on her game. But sadly, I did not like HOPE IN THE DARK at all. First of all, disclaimer. I'm a California liberal, exactly the variety that so many people in the rest of the U.S. find so obnoxious, and to be honest, I don't really care. I was raised to treat all people with respect, to view people as people and not tokens, and to not hold everyone to the same creeds that I live my own life. I believe in free elections and democracy, and I think that foreign policy shouldn't stop at the Northern border, and if that makes me controversial, then I guess I'm controversial.

That said, I really didn't like HOPE IN THE DARK. Not only is it dated and depressing, I just don't really believe in the hope anymore. I honestly believe that the conservative party is keeping us from progressing as a society, socially, politically, and technologically, and I no longer share her optimism. Maybe I did once, but you know what they say about fooling someone twice. After three stolen elections, I don't have a lot of faith in the system anymore. I do what I can with my platform and try to raise awareness and do good, but I no longer hold much faith in a unification of the two party system.

1 star
Profile Image for Kristina Horner.
157 reviews1,822 followers
March 11, 2017
I really needed this. I've been listening to this book sporadically over the past month or two on my commute and it left me with a lot of new ideas that are really helping me get through a lot of the crap going on right now. It's a great book.

Biggest takeaway was that we shouldn't be afraid to celebrate small wins, even if the fight isn't over. The fight is never over. We can always improve, there's always going to be more causes to fight for, but we have to celebrate progress - and then keep fighting. It's what will keep us from losing that hope we need to keep going.

I also loved this:

"Despair is a form of certainty, certainty that the future will be a lot like the present or decline from it. Optimism is similarly confident about what will happen. Both are grounds for not acting. Hope can be the knowledge that reality doesn't necessarily match our plans.”
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,118 followers
November 25, 2016
"Hope locates itself in the premises that we don't know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.... [Hope is] the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand."
Rebecca Solnit did a third edition update of this book in the early months of 2016, originally published in 2004 after the re-election of George W. Bush. The audience is clear, people disappointed in his re-election, struggling with burnout and feeling like their work is just spinning their wheels and treading water. It is meant to be encouraging for that group and other activists, pointing out historical events where activism has had a significant impact, from preventing environmental destruction to starting a revolution.
"The African writer Laurens Van Der Post once said that no great new leaders were emerging because it was time for us to cease to be followers."
For a few days following the presidential election of 2016, the publisher made the eBook available for free. I was grasping at anything, and downloaded it, thinking I might be able to read it in the future.
"Despair is ... a form of impatience as well as of certainty."
But I was curious. I have liked what Solnit had to say before, from mansplaining to Iceland. So I peeked in and found myself returning to it between other reads. It's funny, while a lot of what she is saying has a lot of relevance, the feeling is still different now. Some of what Solnit points out about how ideas change and become mainstream over time must also be true about racism and sexism if they are true about more liberal leaning ideals. I do wonder what she is thinking, if she's worried about her work being truly undone (she has contributed significantly to environmental activism), if the change in tide is troubling, or if she can still step back the way she is able to in these pages. I suppose I will wait for the fourth edition, or another essay.
"[History] is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension.... It will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal... Hope calls for action."
As always, Solnit is impeccably researched, and I appreciated her very thorough and engaging endnotes. Her concepts near the end of the coyote created world, and being willing to step past doctrine and engage with new partners and new ways of thinking is really where I think we should all be focusing right now.
Profile Image for Camille Sheppard.
48 reviews12 followers
April 3, 2016
Its hard for me to exaggerate how important I feel this book is and how personally relevant it was for me to read it right now.

Rebecca Solnit's prose, per usual, is a pleasure to read, but more than that, she hits home with her message for anyone who feels overwhelmed, terrified, discouraged and desperate about the current state of affairs in politics, the environment and social issues.

Over and over again, her retelling of a story allowed me to reframe a story of my own, personal and public.

We live at a critical moment in history - at a time when its easy to look around and say, I can't do anything about this mess. That's the easy answer. The more complicated and hopeful answer is to do the thing that life is demanding of us anyway, with no guarantees, and to do it with faith that it will have some far reaching impact of which I may never be aware. This applies in private life as well as public. There is no certainty to be had. That which we work for today may never come to pass, but our job is to join with others and do the work anyway - with courage, creativity, passion and pleasure - and never stop believing no matter what the news says.

And if I wasn't clear before - this way of looking at things is just as important in personal life as public. The darkness is full of possibilities. I'm only lost if I give up and stop believing and acting with hope.
Profile Image for Rachel.
298 reviews31 followers
July 12, 2016
2.5 stars. Unfortunately 'Hope In The Dark' spends most of itself talking about what it's going to be and do, and then runs out of time in which to be and do it. There are scattered snatches of insight and inspiration, but these are completely overshadowed by overall disjointedness and lack of content behind the bluster. If you're going to give your book such a promising title, you've got to back it up!
Profile Image for Karolina.
Author 10 books956 followers
July 22, 2019
Męczył mnie momentami ten zbiorek, ale podobało mi się przesłanie - przede wszystkim jest mocno przeterminowany, bo w większości skupia się na wojnie w Iraku i polityce Busha, a 15 lat później sytuacja w kwestii aktywizmu, polityki światowej i świadomości na temat kryzysu klimatycznego wygląda jednak inaczej.
Profile Image for Bülent Ö. .
267 reviews121 followers
June 26, 2021
O ne yazsa okurum. Hiçbir türe sığmayan o güzel yazılarına; hassas, eşitlikçi, güçlü sesine hayranım.

Kitap umut etmenin ne denli önemli olduğuna ve bu umudun eyleme dönüştüğünde değer kazandığına dair.

Umudu aydınlığın kesinliğinde değil karanlığın belirsizliğinde bulacağımızı söylüyor Solnit. Onlarca örnekle hem bunu kanıtlıyor hem de alternatif bir zaferler tarihi yazıyor.
Profile Image for Colleen.
Author 10 books390 followers
February 8, 2017
I'm so grateful for this book

Just bought 30 copies to start giving them away. In the darkness lies possibility. The dark of the future is not inevitably evil or ugly. The future is dark because it is yet unwritten. Thank you Rebecca Solnit.
Profile Image for Introverticheart.
220 reviews190 followers
September 26, 2019
"Nadzieja to przekonanie, że to, co robimy, ma znaczenie, nawet jeśli nie sposób z góry przewidzieć, jakiego i kiedy znaczenia nabierze, na kogo i na co może wpłynąć"
Profile Image for Betty C..
127 reviews6 followers
March 6, 2016
I read this following a recommendation from the website Brainpickings, which touted it as a beacon of hope in our dark times. I was disappointed. First, it is outdated, as it was doomed to be, focusing on the movement against the second Iraq war and on anti-globlization protests of the nineties. Second, looking at the state the world is in today, the protest activities the author refers to unfortunately don't leave me that hopeful.

I see many are enthusiastic about this book, and I'm sure it's of interest if you were an activist at the time, or want to read first-hand insight about political activism during that period. But for me, this book did not live up to its title from a 2016 point of view.
Profile Image for Nariman.
83 reviews105 followers
August 13, 2020
معمولا کتاب هایی که در اصل مجموعه مقالات هستن همیشه این خطر رو دارن که مطالب تکراری توشون زیاده و هر چی جلوتر میری خسته کننده تر میشن. این کتاب موضوع جالبی رو انتخاب کرده بود اما فقط مقدمه اش جذابیت داشت. بقیه کتاب صرفا همون حرفای مقدمه رو بارها و بارها تکرار میکرد بدون اینکه چیز جدیدی بهش اضافه کنه. از طرفی نویسنده کتاب از فعالان چپ آمریکایی هست و اتفاقاتی مثل به قدرت رسیدن هوگو چاوز در ونزوئلا رو به عنوان موفقیت جامعه مدنی مثال میزد. در حالی که میدونیم قدرت گرفتن پوپولیست ها و چپگراها در آمریکای جنوبی چه قدر به مردم اون کشورا و زندگیشون ضربه زده و دیدن وضع فعلی ونزوئلا کافیه که بفهمیم چه تبعاتی داشته. اما جهان بینی چپ ها عموما اینجوریه که هر چیزی که بر خلاف قدرت آمریکا عمل کنه براشون جذابه فارغ از این که چه تبعاتی برای اون کشور داره.
Profile Image for Jakub Horbów.
330 reviews138 followers
October 24, 2020
Głównym celem autorki eseju jest przekonanie czytelnika, że nie warto umierać za ideały, oraz że codziennie jesteśmy świadkami małych zwycięstw, których nie potrafimy odpowiednio docenić, czy to przez naszą idealistyczną wizję osiągnięcia niemożliwego, czy zwykłe przemilczenia i małą „klikalność” dobrych informacji. Poniekąd jej się to udaje, szczególnie może podnieść na duchu osoby, które w natłoku złych informacji pogrążają się w bezsilności. Za to na pewno warto docenić wznowienie tej książki.

Niestety przykłady sprzed 20 lat robią dużo mniejsze wrażenie na dzisiejszym czytelniku, szczególnie kwestie walki o środowisko mogą okazać się okrutnie rozczarowujące. Aby w pełni odnieść zamierzony cel autorka lub jej podobni aktywiści musieliby pisać tą książkę co 5-10 lat na nowych aktualnych przykładach.

Na pewno warto przeczytać, ale raczej bez wielkich oczekiwań.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
437 reviews225 followers
December 26, 2021
A handy little antidote to despair and cynicism, much needed right now, at least by me.

Solnit begins the first chapter talking about Virginia Woolf’s 1915 WWI era journal entry that read “The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think.” Where there is uncertainty, there is room for anything to happen, even radical transformations can occur, and herein lies the basis for hope.

“Hope is not about what we expect. It is an embrace of the essential unknowability of the world. . . And this is grounds to act. I believe in hope as an act of defiance. . .There is no alternative except surrender. And surrender not only abandons the future, it abandons the soul.”

She goes on, throughout 21 very short chapters/essays to make several points expanding on the importance of activism and hope of its success, including

• Radical transformations have happened, if you take an historical perspective. Who would have believed, even a few years beforehand, the fall of the Berlin Wall, current LGBQ rights and marriage equality, the invention and rise of the Internet, Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa? “Profound change for the better does occur, even though it can be difficult to see because one of the most common effects of success is to be taken for granted.” All activism, is a slow, uphill struggle, but does yield results, just not as fast as many people want it to. She speaks of indigenous people reclaiming their heritage, hand, and culture, and how it happens in tiny increments, but can result in an accumulation that results in huge cultural shifts, through changed awareness, knowledge, and imagination.
• Resistance to monolithic institutions or corporations needs to be done “not with a monolithic movement, but with multiplicity.” A cause can be served by myriad small local groups and movements. “Decentralization and direct democracy could, in one definition, be this politic in which people are producers [not consumers], possessed of power and vision, in an unfinished world.” She also celebrates the focused partnerships of diverse groups who may have very different overall goals, but can collaborate on specific issues to great effect.
• She is harshly critical of the idea that nothing but regime change that ushers in the change of everything is the only acceptable outcome, that this is not only unrealistic in the way change happens, but also births cynicism and defeatism. Just as the perfect is the enemy of the good, so expectations of a perfect world, or fast results, are detrimental to the achievement of the slow, small steps that lead to a better world. Those who are disappointed in the lack of speed or complete achievement and throw their hands up in despair, proclaiming all effort is pointless, just undermine the possibility of the successes that can be made. Expecting perfection will always create the illusion of failure.

I’m fairly progressive politically, but Solnit is a true radical, not only in her goals, but through her advocacy for new, out-of-the-box methods of activism, coalitions, grassroots methods, consistency and persistence, and relentless showing up as ways of achieving success. She champions the sense of possibility that lives in the unknowable and seems to believe that hope is not only an option, but an obligation.

This is the most political of Solnit’s essay collections that I have read. Even though it was written in 2004 and references events relevant to that time, her arguments apply equally well to now and to all activism, with the caveat that some of the challenges we’re currently facing, especially those having to do with the fragility of our democracy and the health of the planet, have some pretty urgent expiration dates where her brand of patience might not work as well. Nonetheless, I found this book to be, for the most part, true and inspiring.
Profile Image for Aleksandra (Parapet Literacki).
146 reviews255 followers
February 8, 2021
No dawno niczego tak nie męczyłam.
Co ciekawe, przez 1/3 książki, po nieco zbyt długim wstępie, byłam zaciekawiona, przytaczane przykłady oddolnych ruchów, małych zmian i wygranych rewolucji napawały mnie optymizmem, były zgodne z moją wizją świata. Jednak całość jest niemożliwie rozwleczona, w połowie już czułam się jak na przydługim wiecu partyjnym. Te same tezy były wielokrotnie powtarzane i mielone do znudzenia.

Z założenia zgadzam się co do joty z poglądami Solnit. W "Nadziei w mroku" autorka stara się udowodnić, że postawa skrajnej lewicy, według której absolutnie wszystko jest źle i nie tak, a zadowoli ich tylko radykalna zmiana - bez doceniania małych kroczków - jest zwyczajnie zgubna. Momentami miałam wrażenie, że cały jej wywód można by sprowadzić do tego, że jak to jest, że twoja lewicowa bańka udostępnia na fejsie wyłącznie złe wiadomości. A świat nie jest przecież czarno-biały. Zapominamy ile się zmieniło w ciągu ostatnich 100 lat, jeśli chodzi o równość rasową, etniczną, płciową. Wciąż nie jest doskonale? Nigdy nie będzie, ale nie można udawać, że nie zrobiliśmy gigantycznego progresu. I on będzie dziać się nadal, powoli.
Ja to nazywam karmieniem wkurwienia, podlewaniem roślinki złości. Za cholerę do niczego to nie prowadzi, nic nie wnosi, za to można codziennie rano ulać jadu nad tym, jak to jest wszystko fatalne na świecie. Na zdrowie!

"Przyzwyczajamy się do zmian, nie doceniając ich wagi; zapominamy, jak dalece kultura się przekształca".

"Obecne czasy wymagają od nas umiejętności rozpoznawania kamieni milowych na drodze do zwycięstwa oraz gotowości, by działać dalej. Tymczasem wydaje się, że wiele osób raczej wynajduje problemy, które potwierdzają ich ponurą wizję świata. Wszystko, co dalekie od doskonałości, jest klęską, przynosi rozczarowanie, oznacza zdradę. Jest w tym pewna doza idealizmu, są jednak także nierealistyczne oczekiwania, które mogą przynieść jedynie rozczarowanie".

Profile Image for Adam.
297 reviews5 followers
April 11, 2009
Solnit strikes again! Right to my heart. I think she's committed to progressive movement building for the same reason as me: love. Not anger, but love, and really, hope, because we're in this not so that we have something to do, but because we think we're on to something; that there are some “wild possibilities.”

Solnit wrote this before the Obama campaign, before there was that added discursive element to the word “hope.” “Hope” is a departure point for her, a meaning for her to describe her personal journey from art to activism, and a lens for which to see the history of progressive forces in American society. With an existentialist flair, she identifies that “hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope” (5).

Solnit sets out to challenge the psyche of much of the Left, which is largely lack of hope. She describes a grim psychology that she attributes to the Left's historical position in adversarial opposition: a quickness to downplay victories, to deny successes, to show skepticism to stories of achievement. As she points out, the fact that the unprecedented number of protesters who marched worldwide (including Antartica!) against the invasion of Iraq did not fail because it did not bring the war to a halt. Rather, it succeeded in creating new networks, communities, communication, etc.

The other insight Solnit has into the American Left is the tendency for people to turn to activism only in times of crisis. She provocatively draws a line between the Judeo-Christian idea of fall from grace and perfection to the idea of activism as “saving” (as in “save _____.” Fill in the blank with “the whales,” “our school,” etc.), then going home at the end of the day, as opposed to creating activism in everyday practice. She argues that the acts of new yorkers on 9/11, which some call heroic, are really just good citizenship, and asks aloud why we don't always act like good citizens.

Solnit makes the case that there is much hope in the global justice movement for it's ability to unite pieces inherited from previous decades: the women's movements, labor movements, peace movements, have at times united under the umbrella of anti-corporate globalization. Global capitalism has begotten global resistance—it is gloablization from below. I've butchered her excellent writing to make it sound simplistic. I'm not a good writer...and I don't have time to re-type the entire book...but it's short, so you should just read it...

Anyway, I'll admit that it feels good to read from a committed radical who isn't grim, and if it makes me double my efforts, that's a good thing, right? Aside from feeling good, though, I think that Solnit articulates some developments that give us good cause for hope. She is describing what thinking and practice I see around me in my generation: a type of movement building that is critical of 60's macho-revolutionary violence, post-ideological, non-sectarian, action-focused, post-identity politics, transnational, and community-building.

Solnit manages to discuss a series of ideas that evoke theoretical fragments from some of my favorite thinkers, blowing my mind in the process: culture as a political source (Gramsci), revolutionary practice as creating alternative powers instead of seizing power (Graeber, Negri), and living life as a constant state of becoming (de Beauvoir).

Perhaps most excitingly, she manages to bring an outsider perspective to the relevance and legitimacy of anarchist elements. She speaks to the “politics of process,” which includes “non-hierarchical decision-making, decentralized organizing, and deep community democracy (105). Additionally, she describes it as a politics of prefiguration, by which we embody our political visions—we practice the politics we wish to achieve. When I studied with the Mujeres Creando, an anarchist women's group in Bolivia, they described this same idea as “practica politica,” or political practice. Examples Solnit points to are the Solidarity movement in Poland: “By acting as if they were free, the people of Eastern Europe became free” (31), and the Zapatista movement in Mexico, quoting their spokesperson: “'With our struggle, we are reading the future which has already been sown yesterday, which is being cultivated today, and which can only be reaped if one fights, if, that is, one dreams'” (37). In Solnit's words, the politics of prefiguration means that “if you embody what you aspire to, you have already succeeded” (86-87).

What this adds up to is a pithy stew of ideas. I'm sorry to quote her again, but she's just so damn quotable! So I leave you with this: “For a long time, I've thought that the purpose of activism and art, or at least of mine, is to make a world in which people are producers of meaning, not consumers” (115).
Profile Image for Joanka.
447 reviews75 followers
Shelved as 'abandoned'
January 11, 2022
No. Rebecca Solnit and me will not be friends.

I had lots of doubts while reading Men Explain Things to Me but this book I simply abandoned, having no patience for it. It may have worked as an essay but the whole book was simply indigestible for me. And the problem with me and Solnit is – I do agree with the main thesis of her writing here. Yes, I believe hope is essential, yes, I agree that our reality consists of more than negative, dramatic events but no to most of her reasoning!

First of all, this book does feel out of date, even with the new foreword written in 2015, before lots of negative changes in the world, and I don’t mean only choosing Trump for the president, although this book is so USA-centric that it is first that comes to my mind. Secondly, I think I perceive hope a bit differently I think? Solnit underlines that she doesn’t want to sound naïve, that there is lots of things that are terrible in our world now but hey, it’s better than it used to? Which, no, not necessarily. For example, at one point Solnit writes that homophobia is mostly a problem of old people and becomes an issue of the past. Or that BLM changed the socio-political situation of black people in US. I’m not saying the situation didn’t improve but I felt it as if she was saying that the problem was minor now. So privileged and insensitive. Finally, there was too much the author herself in those texts and it may work sometimes, but here it didn’t for me. I found it tiresome and at times simply embarrassing.

I think this was my last attempt at reading more Solnit and I’m giving up on her now.

I'm not giving a rating as I didn't manage to read even the half of it.
Profile Image for Barbara (The Bibliophage).
1,086 reviews152 followers
March 18, 2017
3.5 stars. If the 2016 election left you feeling despair, this book is for you. It was originally written at another time many people felt despair - during the 2003 discussion of WMD in Iraq. But Solnit covers so much more ground than just what to when you don't agree with your elected officials. She offers hope in the ability of every individual to make change.

She says, “To hope is to gamble. It's to bet on your futures, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.”

Walking her readers through examples of productive and meaningful insurrection, Solnit makes her case over and over again. For me, it struck just the right combination of imparting scholarly information about revolts and inspiring quotes from the author and many others.

This isn't a handbook or a step-by-step action plan. However, it captures history as a reminder that we've had dark days before with ultimately positive results in both short and long term.

Refusing to be paralyzed by despair, I'm going with this approach instead. "And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.”

Then I'm taking action on the causes that matter most to me.
Profile Image for Anna.
1,741 reviews677 followers
November 4, 2017
I should definitely have read one of Solnit’s books before, as I’ve enjoyed her writing online and found ‘Hope in the Dark’ a moving, thought-provoking, and deeply satisfying read. I love her elegant, measured style. While writing with passion and feeling, she also qualifies and hedges her statements in a way that really speaks to me as I tend to do the same. (Note the hedging use of ‘tend to’, because I don’t always!) I found her reasons to hope in horrifying political times inspiring and encouraging. Although she was writing during the Bush years, it is all very much applicable to the Time of Trump. Solnit is clear about the many problems of the world and does not downplay them, yet she argues persuasively that people are capable of wonderful things, including systemic change.

As I read this book on a (delayed) train, I noticed a great many astute and appealing parts for such a short book. An initial example:

Left despair has many causes and many varieties. There are those who think that turning the official version inside out is enough. To say that the emperor has no clothes is a nice anti-authoritarian gesture, but to say that everything is without exception going straight to hell is not an authoritarian vision but only an inverted of the mainstream’s “everything’s fine”. Then, failure and marginalisation are safe - you can see the conservatives who run the United States claim to be embattled outsiders, because that means they can deny their responsibility for how things are and their power to make change, and because it is a sense of being threatened that rallies their troops. The activists who deny their own power and possibility likewise choose to shake off their sense of obligation: if they are doomed to lose, they don’t have to do very much except situate themselves as beautiful losers or at least virtuous ones.

There’s a great deal of wisdom in just that one paragraph. It perfectly pins down Trump’s rhetoric (although that term seems too generous, ‘noise’ is more accurate) of victimhood and persecution despite also being President and claiming to have omnipotent control over America. It gently yet firmly counters fatalism and inaction, in a manner that made me want to revisit Paul Kingsnorth’s Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays for comparison purposes. Read together, his essays make a sophisticated and thoughtful argument for despair. Solnit gives a powerful counterpoint, drawing on a wide range of examples and writers - including Borges, to my delight.

Another particularly important point:

Both versions are defeatist because they are static. What’s missing from these two ways of telling is an ability to recognise a situation in which you are travelling and have not arrived, in which you have cause both to celebrate and fight, in which the world is always being made and never finished. [...] “We are winning” said the graffiti in Seattle, not “We have won”. It’s a way of telling in which you can feel successful without feeling smug, in which you can feel challenged without feeling defeated. Most victories will be temporary, or incomplete, or compromised in some way, and we might as well celebrate them as well as the stunning victories that come from time to time.

This is part of a wider critique of simplistic dichotomous thinking, which I found valuable and well-expressed. (However, I would suggest a moratorium on celebrating very slight improvements in the inclusiveness of advertising as victories for feminism and LGBT rights.)

Solnit’s commentary on the altruism, co-operation, and desire for belonging in human nature also reminded me of a talk I went to by George Monbiot on his latest book, Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics in the Age of Crisis. The ways she puts it is as succinct and profound as the rest of the book:

Hollywood movies and too many government pandemic plans still presume that most of us are cowards or brutes, that we panic, trample each other, rampage, or freeze helplessly in moments of crisis and chaos. Most of us believe this, even though it is a slander against the species, an obliteration of what actually happens, and a crippling blow to our ability to prepare for disasters. Hollywood likes this view because it paves the way for movies starring some superman in the foreground and hordes of stamping, screaming extras. Without stupid, helpless people to save, heroes become unnecessary. Or rather, without them, it turns out we are all heroes.

Like Monbiot, Solnit then argues that, ‘The embrace of local power doesn’t have to mean parochialism, withdrawal, or intolerance, only a coherent foundation from which to navigate the larger world.’ This a radically hopeful and utopian notion at a time of rising neo-fascist nationalism, an ideology that fears and distrusts both the local and the global. Yet Solnit’s faith in people, and ability to back it up with logic and evidence, lends considerable conviction.

She also gave me a very helpful insight into my parents’ generation, whose pessimism can be startling and frustrating at times :

A friend born in the 1950s reminds me that his generation in their youth really expected a revolution - the old kind where people march with weapons and overthrow the government and establish a utopia - and were permanently disappointed that it hadn’t come to pass. When I was young, people still jestingly said, “After the revolution,” but the catchphrase came from the idea that regime change was how to change everything, and nothing short of regime change mattered. Though everything had changed - not enough on many fronts, but tremendously.

Despite Solnit ending with a chapter on climate change, I finished the book feeling more hopeful. Surely that’s as high a recommendation as I could offer.
Profile Image for Karen.
1,431 reviews201 followers
June 12, 2023
This started as an essay for the author as she protested the Iraq war.

After her success touring and talking about this same essay, she expanded it into a book, updating it, refining her arguments and reflections and creating what I am reviewing now.

This is activism and a global movement. It is her argument for Hope. A desire for social change.

Sometimes she meanders. But...

For the most part...

She writes for the activist in all of us. The one who wants to create change. Who wants to build on Hope. And possibilities for in a world we want to believe in.

And for the most part, she succeeds in getting her message across.
Profile Image for Amy.
525 reviews37 followers
September 15, 2020
No doubt there have been many times since this came out, that it has acted as a salve for a reader in need. 7 months into COVID-19 times, with Black Lives Matters demonstrations happening every day in multiple cities for months on end, with disappointingly limited racial justice results so far, and while the West coast now burns like never before, this book was a definite needed support full of rich ideas and examples to provide hope in the dark. Also how funny is it to remember when Bush II was the worst for the USA. Recommended.
Profile Image for Julie.
2,015 reviews38 followers
July 11, 2022
From the Foreword to the Third Edition (2015):

The Branches Are Hope; the Roots Are Memory:

"Things don't always change for the better, but they change, and we can play a role in that change if we act. Which is where hope comes in, and memory, the collective memory we call history."
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,677 reviews2,666 followers
November 11, 2019
“Activism is not a journey to the corner store, it is a plunge into the unknown. The future is always dark.” Solnit believes in the power of purposeful individuals working towards social justice, even in the face of dispiriting evidence (the largest protests the world had seen didn’t stop the Iraq War). Instead of perfectionism, she advises flexibility and resilience; things could be even worse had we not acted. At first I thought it depressing that 15 years on we’re still dealing with many of the issues she mentions here, and the environmental crisis has only deepened. But her strong and stirring writing is a reminder that, though injustice is always with us, so is everyday heroism.
Profile Image for Magdalena.
183 reviews35 followers
April 17, 2020
Po ilości wznowień, ogólnej średniej ocen i żywotności tej książki wnioskuję, że na sporo ludzi działa ona orzeźwiająco, ale dla mnie nie robi to nic ciekawszego niż zrobiłby o wiele krótszy i bardziej zwarty esej (i pewnie robił ten pierwszy oryginalny esej z 2003 r.). Pozwoliłoby to ominąć większość raf przykładów - które po kilkunastu latach czasem robią niezbyt aktualne, zmieniają wydźwięk, lub robią się po prostu nieczytelne. Tak z pół tej krótkiej przecież książeczki to trochę mielenie wody, do tego bardzo amerykańskie w stylu, co nie pomaga. Są tu rzeczy wartościowe i można rzeczywiście warto to czytać dla głównego przesłania*, ale muszę przyznać, że koniec tej dekady wydaje mi się cięższym i trudniejszym momentem niż przełom milenium, do którego ta książka się nieustannie odnosi, więc promyki nadziei, które autorka identyfikuje dosyć często automatycznie przywołują u mnie skojarzenie ze stanem obecnym i tracą jakąkolwiek moc podnoszenia mnie na duchu. To, że zdecydowana większość problemów i walk, o których pisze brzmi boleśnie znajomo, także nie do końca pomaga (szczególnie w kontekście zmian klimatycznych). Ale muszę przyznać, że jestem z natury osobą pesymistyczną, więc w sposób naturalny o wiele łatwiej mi się płynie z bardziej minorowym prądem.

Ale jeśli ktoś chciałby to czytać teraz w ramach szukania źródeł optymizmu, to proponowałabym zamiast od tej książki zacząć jednak od bardzo świeżego eseju Solnit na tu i teraz:

/* jeśli miałabym jakoś streścić główne przesłanie książki to jest ono mniej więcej takie - zmiana to proces, który przebiega powoli, z potknięciami i często w nieoczywisty sposób. Brak całkowitego zwycięstwa nie oznacza, że nie należy celebrować małych zdobyczy osiągniętych po drodze. Postęp widać najlepiej z perspektywy czasu. Pesymizm i zwątpienie są "łatwiejsze" niż optymizm, ale rodzą marazm i bezsilność, więc stają się samospełniającą się przepowiednią i barierą dla zmiany. Działanie zawsze ma sens. (Trudno się nie zgodzić, tylko można by inaczej podać).
Profile Image for Bookworm.
1,930 reviews62 followers
December 12, 2016
The first five-ish chapters were exactly what I needed. And then it fell apart. In the post-2016 aftermath this book had been tossed around quite a bit by various people and the premise sounded like something I really needed to read right now. As she looks at various types and events and kinds of activism author Solnit reminds people to keep hoping. The road for progress is long, winding, and sometimes people do not live to see the changes they set into motion not because they die in the process, but because sometimes change is incredibly slow.
And sometimes it is not. After the beginning of the book the text appears to be a collection of her essays on various events and what activists did during that time. Some victories are small, some are barely visible. But others are immediate, and some get a lot of coverage. And Solnit reminds people that it is a never-ending battle to maintain a guard against erosion and retaking of many hard-earned gains.
That said, the book is not without its faults. Like others I felt it was repetitive (probably due to the essay collection format it takes). Some of the claims are a bit iffy. As a personal preference, I can only side-eye someone who uses “neoliberal” repeatedly (while not something that is on every single page Solnit does bring up this concept here and there) and holds up Edward Snowden for government transparency. Again, a matter of my own personal views.
It does feel a bit out-dated as a text as it focuses on the administration of George W. Bush and the Iraq War but that is not necessarily the fault of the author nor does it mean we cannot take lessons from our history (as we should!).
There were some really amazing and fantastic lines that I wanted to underline and hold onto as helping me put into words how I felt. There’s some stuff to chew on about responsibility and ideological purity as well as the need to not forget our history or that sometimes it’s a long trudging road, etc. But on the whole I would say the text really needs to be updated and I wished I had purchased this cheap instead of buying it at full price.
Profile Image for Kurt.
642 reviews10 followers
July 16, 2019
"Activists often speak as though the solutions we need have not yet been launched or invented, as though we are starting from scratch, when often the real goal is to amplify the power and reach of existing alternatives. What we dream of is already present in the world" (xvii).

"Americans are good at responding to a crisis and then going home to let another crisis brew both because we imagine that the finality of death can be achieved in life—it's called 'happily ever after' in personal life, 'saved' in politics and religion—and because we tend to think of political engagement as something for emergencies rather than, as people in many other countries...have imagined it, as a part and even pleasure of everyday life" (62).

"The Angel of Alternate History asks us to believe in the invisible; Coyote asks us to trust in the basic eccentricity of the world, its sense of humor, and its resilience" (75).

"The purpose of activism and art, or at least of mine, is to make a world in which people are producers of meaning, not consumers, and writing this book I now see how this is connected to the politics of hope and to those revolutionary days that are the days of creation of the world. Decentralization and direct democracy could, in one definition, bet his politic in which people are producers, possessed of power and vision, in an unfinished world" (100).

HOPE IN THE DARK made me tear up in basically every essay because Solnit does such an extraordinary job excavating stories of solidarity, resistance, joy. The "hope" she scavenges "in the dark" is an elixir that, properly drunk, demands action. The uncertainty and unknowability of history render inaction and despair untenable, the guise of a jaded, holier-than-thou purist or someone who has yet to feel their own power and possibility. I wish everyone could read this book.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,273 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.