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With its in-your-face title—which jumps out you in eye-catching white on black—Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word is probably not your best bet for a Metro read. But though you may not want to wave it around on the train, be sure to read it somewhere, because Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy’s measured, but never dispassionate, take on the N-word, while not likely to defuse its malignant power, certainly offers a new framework for looking at the various issues surrounding its use. Nigger is part legal tract, part historical text, and part sociological essay, but mostly it’s an indictment; one of the best things about this relatively thin book is the way the cool-headed Kennedy’s outrage at the N-word’s odious history as a tool of oppression and disparagement bleeds through. But Kennedy is not what he terms an “eradicationist.” Rather, he insists that use or abuse of the term depends on the context. Thus, he defends Quentin Tarantino’s invoking of it in his films and is sympathetic to black performers whose use of it is a deliberate testing of the convention “that maintains, despite massive evidence to the contrary, that nigger can mean only one thing.” Kennedy concludes that the N-word is part of the American lexicon, for “bad and for good,” and his conclusion that “it will be with us for many years to come” seems inarguable. But whether it can somehow be turned—as Kennedy seems to believe—from sword to ploughshare is debatable. Kennedy appears at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Michael Little)