Columbia University Press, 464 pp., $32.
In the first of an apparent two-volume work, James demystifies the iconoclastic McKay by immersing him in the colorism, colonialism and capitalism of his native Jamaica. Because his upbringing is so intellectually, culturally and personally fierce, to be fully awake is a choice that would have been difficult for him not to make, even though many around him actively preferred the blissfulness of social slumber. A wide-eyed search for the perfect space leads to intellectual daydreams of a far-away land filled with hammers and sickles, items that would become the ideological tools of many, many 20th-century Caribbean, African and Black radicals. The origin story of a poet who, regardless of the racial and classist fires all around him on both sides of the Atlantic, refused to stay in an inglorious spot.