Book List

Best Books of 2014 for Informed Americans

Intensely immersive reading.

SOLDIER GIRLS

THE BATTLES OF THREE WOMEN AT HOME AND AT WAR

A journalist tells the absorbing story of how wartime experiences shaped the lives and friendships of three female soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Michelle Fischer, Debbie Helton and Desma Brooks were three Indiana women who had very different reasons for joining the National Guard. The teenage Fischer wanted money for college. Helton, a 30-something single mother, wanted “a means of submerging herself in a group she held in high esteem.” Brooks, a 20-something with no clear life goals, joined “on a dare.” Each expected to fulfill their service obligations in Indiana, but in the wake of 9/11, all three would get far more than they bargained for. Thorpe (Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America, 2009) follows Fischer, Helton and Brooks over 12 years and two life-changing overseas deployments. She explores how the women met and bonded despite differences in age, political affiliations and background. Fiercely competent and dedicated, they were treated as outsiders to a male establishment that too-often regarded them with a combination of amusement, suspicion, hostility and desire. Yet the women showed that they were no different from the males with whom they served: They drank too much, had affairs and felt equally diminished when fellow soldiers died in combat. The obstacles they faced at home—divorces, resentful children, reintegration into society as parents, daughters, wives and lovers—were no less formidable. When Brooks returned to Indiana with PTSD, Thorpe reveals the devastating impact that condition—which is not as much discussed among female soldiers—had on not only her career, but also her life as a struggling single mother of three. The women would disagree about the value of the time they spent swept up in unexpected wars, yet as Thorpe demonstrates, none would ever question the meaning of the unstinting love and support they gave to each other and gratefully returned.

Intensely immersive reading.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6810-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to...

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CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.

Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the “rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy,” in Piketty’s gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author’s reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the “high inequality” camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the “supermanagers” of business rather than the “superstars” of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author’s data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-43000-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

Rising from the text is a miasma of corporate and political malfeasance and immorality that mocks the platitudes of...

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THE DIVIDE

AMERICAN INJUSTICE IN THE AGE OF THE WEALTH GAP

Rolling Stone journalist Taibbi (Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America, 2010, etc.) once again rakes from the muck some most malodorous information about inequality in America.

Readers with high blood pressure should make sure they’ve taken their medication before reading this devastating account of the inequality in our justice, immigration and social service systems. Taibbi’s chapters are high-definition photographs contrasting the ways we pursue small-time corruption and essentially reward high-level versions of the same thing. Mixing case studies, interviews and anecdotes with comprehensive research on his topics, the author’s effort should silence the sort of criticism that says, “Yes, those are horrible incidents and miscarriages of justice, but are they representative?” His answer, “Oh, yes!” Taibbi deals with the frisk-and-stop campaign in New York City, the 2008 financial collapse (he reminds us that no one went to jail for the egregious activities of the investment banks involved), the vast resources we allocate for pursuing, prosecuting and deporting illegal immigrants (mostly for petty behavior that pales in significance to that of the wolves of Wall Street), our horrendous persecution of people on food stamps and other public assistance, and the case of whistle-blower Linda Almonte, a well-paid employee for Chase Bank, which summarily fired her when she pointed out their unethical and illegal practices with their credit card holders. Taibbi does not tiptoe through his text. He believes many of our practices are characteristic of a “dystopia,” and he calls Dick Fuld, a major banker, “one of the great assholes of all time” and illegal immigrants, “one of America’s last great cash crops.” Moreover, he is an equal-opportunity critic: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all wither under the intense sun of Taibbi’s relentless scrutiny.

Rising from the text is a miasma of corporate and political malfeasance and immorality that mocks the platitudes of democracy.

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9342-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

An urgent report on the state of American aspirations and a haunting dispatch from forsaken streets.

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THE SHORT AND TRAGIC LIFE OF ROBERT PEACE

A BRILLIANT YOUNG MAN WHO LEFT NEWARK FOR THE IVY LEAGUE BUT DID NOT SURVIVE

Ambitious, moving tale of an inner-city Newark kid who made it to Yale yet succumbed to old demons and economic realities.

Novelist Hobbs (The Tourists, 2007) combines memoir, sociological analysis and urban narrative elements, producing a perceptive page-turner regarding the life of his eponymous protagonist, also his college roommate. Peace’s mother was fiercely independent, working nonstop in hospital kitchens to help aging parents keep their house. His father, a charming hustler, was attentive to Robert until his conviction on questionable evidence in a double murder. Mrs. Peace pushed her bright son toward parochial school, the best course for survival in Newark, already notorious for economic struggles and crime. Compulsively studious, Robert thrived there—a banker alumnus offered to pay his college tuition—and also at Yale. Hobbs contrasts his personal relationship with Robert with a cutting critique of university life, for the privileged and less so, capturing the absurd remove that “model minority” and working-class students experience. At Yale, Peace both performed high-end lab work in his medical major and discreetly dealt marijuana, enhancing his campus popularity, even as he held himself apart: “Rob was incredibly skilled in not showing how he felt [and] at concealing who he was and who he wanted to be.” After graduation, Peace drifted, as did many of his peers: Hobbs notes that even for their privileged classmates, professional success seemingly necessitated brutal hours and deep debt. But Peace drifted back into the Newark drug trade; in 2011, he was murdered by some of the city’s increasingly merciless gangsters due to his involvement in high-grade cannabis production. Hobbs manages the ambiguities of what could be a grim tale by meticulously constructing environmental verisimilitude and unpacking the rituals of hardscrabble parochial schools, Yale secret societies, urban political machinations and Newark drug gangs.

An urgent report on the state of American aspirations and a haunting dispatch from forsaken streets.

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-3190-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

An exhaustive feat of research with a focused structure and robust prose.

LINCOLN AND THE POWER OF THE PRESS

THE WAR FOR PUBLIC OPINION

Hefty study of partisan journalism as vigorously embraced by Abraham Lincoln and the warring New York dailies.

Lincoln knew the power of the press (“public sentiment is everything,” he declared in 1858), and he made sure his views were published in supportive journals and even secretly purchased the newspaper for the German-American community in Springfield, the Illinois Staats-Anzeiger. In this engaging history of one of the most divisive periods in American politics, the buildup to the Civil War, Lincoln historian Holzer (The Civil War in 50 Objects, 2013, etc.) tracks how the great political clashes played out in the lively press of the day, creating not-so-delicate marriages between politicians and the journalists writing the “news” (which was more opinion than actual news). From the early penny presses emerged the New York Herald, published by the formidable Scotsman James Gordon Bennett, a scandalmonger and disputatious contrarian who regularly skewered both parties, Democratic or Whig (Republican), while remaining anti-abolition and a fierce critic of Lincoln; the New York Tribune, founded by Horace Greeley, crusader for faddish causes from utopian socialism to gender equality, who regularly ran for office and both supported Lincoln and later tried to unseat him; and the New York Times, established by Henry Jarvis Raymond as a “mean between two extremes,” promising a more “sober” and “mature” approach yet unabashedly pro-Lincoln, especially as Raymond became head of the Republican Party. The newspapermen bristled at the others’ successes and unloosed competitive salvos in their respective pages over the Mexican War, the Fugitive Slave Act, the Compromise of 1850, the roaring 20-year rivalry between Stephen Douglas and Lincoln, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry—and, especially, the contentious presidential elections of 1860 and ’64. Other regional newspapers establishing fierce positions on slavery struggled for survival, such as William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator and Frederick Douglass’ Paper (later Monthly).

An exhaustive feat of research with a focused structure and robust prose.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1439192719

Page Count: 832

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

A solid biography of a deserving subject.

WILLIAM WELLS BROWN

AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN LIFE

A scholar fills in the gaps in the life of a former slave who became one of the most famous African-Americans of the 19th century.

Greenspan (English/Southern Methodist Univ.; editor: William Wells Brown: A Reader, 2008, etc.) mined the archives to discover how William Wells Brown (a name adopted long after his birth) rose from a nondescript slave probably born in 1814 to become a man of letters, not to mention a medical doctor, before his death in 1884. During the later decades of his life, Brown was the equal of Frederick Douglass as an influential African-American polymath. Like Douglass, Brown crusaded for civil rights. Even after he had won esteem and could live comfortably, he would travel alone to the Deep South, knowing he would be harassed and possibly even murdered. Greenspan is no hagiographer. He understands, for example, that Brown's written works (most famously the novel Clotel) are far from canonical. But the author is openly admiring, and rightly so, of Brown's daring escape from slavery, self-education, powerful public speaking on the anti-slavery circuit, creative approach to the civil rights campaign and efforts to win public office through candidacy in legitimate elections. During the 19th century, the lives of slaves yielded almost no reliable documentation, so Greenspan immersed himself in pre–Civil War chronicles of slave culture to calculate the most likely circumstances of Brown's life. The author’s informed speculation offers a window not only into Brown's suffering and rise, but also the travails (and occasional triumphs) of countless slaves who tried to use their freedom wisely. Greenspan ably navigates Brown’s life and demonstrates how he became a problem to both his slave masters and to any other bigots who could not fathom such intelligence in a lowly slave from Kentucky.

A solid biography of a deserving subject.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-393-24090-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

A compelling, nuanced look at the shifting, volatile meaning of American identity in the post-9/11 era.

THE TRUE AMERICAN

MURDER AND MERCY IN TEXAS

Well-crafted account of an act of post-9/11 vigilante violence and its long reverberations for its survivors.

New York Times columnist Giridharadas (India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking, 2011) meticulously reconstructs two lives that collided in horrific fashion. In the charged, angry days after 9/11, self-styled “Arab Slayer” Mark Stroman murdered two immigrants in Texas, while a third man survived being shot in the head during Stroman’s spree: Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a Bangladesh Air Force veteran, was working at a Dallas-area convenience store as he established himself in America. Stroman was quickly apprehended and sentenced to death; Bhuiyan not only recovered from this harrowing hate crime, but thrived, building a career in IT management. Following a pilgrimage to Mecca with his beloved mother, Bhuiyan decided to channel his sense of good fortune into a social statement, pursuing a late-stage effort to block Stroman’s execution and reach out to his children. Although Stroman’s sentence was ultimately carried out, Bhuiyan’s determination to break what he saw as a never-ending cycle of violence between cultures through an act of forgiveness caused a groundswell of media attention and admiration, even in conservative Texas. Giridharadas writes in a maximalist, descriptive style that allows him to hew close to both Bhuiyan’s open-heartedness and Stroman’s racialized resentment, which he appeared to relinquish in his waning days on death row, moved by the interest of Bhuiyan and others. In building a close, empathetic portrait of the murderer, which includes his troubled extended family, Giridharadas convincingly argues that the rage and violence embraced by Americans like Stroman often results from constricted heartland social environments, where hard drugs (and subsequent criminal records) are easier to come by than good blue-collar jobs and racial tribalism reigns. Bhuiyan and the author seemingly concur that Stroman’s legacy will be the similarly constricted lives of his children. 

A compelling, nuanced look at the shifting, volatile meaning of American identity in the post-9/11 era.

Pub Date: May 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-393-23950-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

Deeply researched and well-written, this book will appeal to general readers and specialists alike.

THE EMPIRE OF NECESSITY

SLAVERY, FREEDOM, AND DECEPTION IN THE NEW WORLD

Pulitzer Prize finalist Grandin (History/New York Univ.; Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City, 2009, etc.) offers a splendid account of the 1804 slave rebellion made famous in Herman Melville’s novel Benito Cereno.

On a sealing expedition in the South Pacific, veteran captain Amasa Delano (1763–1823) encountered a ship in seeming distress, boarded it to provide food and water, and discovered a great deception: The black-skinned people on board—West African slaves—were in command of the vessel and holding its Spanish captain hostage. The clever role-playing by mutinous slaves sharply contradicted the prevailing belief that slaves lacked cunning and reason, and Grandin uses the episode as a revealing window on the Atlantic slave trade and life in Spanish America in the early 1800s. Delano, a veteran seaman from New England, where slavery supported the economy, is seen as “a new man of the American Revolution” who, like many, championed freedom and found slavery morally reprehensible, yet nonetheless played his own role in the system. He eventually led an attack on the rebel-held ship and tortured many captives. Grandin’s research in the archives, libraries and museums of nine countries shines forth on each page of this excellent book. He writes with authority on every aspect of the “slavers’ fever” that gripped the New World and details vividly the horrors of disease-ridden slave ships (“floating tombs”), the treks of slave caravans overland through the pampas to Lima from Buenos Aires, and the harsh, brutal life of sealers, who clubbed and skinned their victims, annihilating many seal rookeries of the Argentine and Chilean islands. The author also examines the parallels between Melville’s novel and the historic incident, and he reflects on evidence of the omnipresence of slavery as an institution that he discovered on his research travels.

Deeply researched and well-written, this book will appeal to general readers and specialists alike.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9453-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2013

If you’ve ever had the feeling that the system is out for itself at your expense, well, look no further. A riveting,...

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FLASH BOYS

A WALL STREET REVOLT

In trademark Lewis (Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, 2011, etc.) fashion, a data-rich but all-too-human tale of “heuristic data bullshit and other mumbo jumbo” in the service of gaming the financial system, courtesy of—yes, Goldman Sachs and company.

That stuff you see on TV about dinging bells and ulcer-stricken traders pacing the floor of the New York Stock Exchange? It’s theater. The real speculative economy lives invisibly in little wires that go to nodes in out-of-the-way places, monitored by computer, shares bought and sold by algorithm. If you send a sell order, it might get intercepted for a fraction of a second by an intermediary that can manipulate the order to squeeze off one one-hundredth of a penny in profit—small on the individual level but big when you consider the millions of trades made every day. Both the system and that process are considerably more complex than that, but this fact remains: It dawned on someone that a person could grow rich laying ever faster optic cables to selected clients, cutting deals with the governments of towns and counties “in order to be able to tunnel through them,” all perfectly legal if not exactly in the spirit of the market. Lewis follows his tried-and-true methods of taking a big story of this sort and deconstructing it to key players, some on the inside, some on the outside, at least one an unlikely hero. In this case, that unlikely hero is an exceedingly mild-mannered Japanese-Canadian banker who assembled a team of techies and numbers nerds to track the nefarious ways of the HFT world—that is, the high-frequency traders and the firms that engaged in “dark pool arbitrage” as just another asset in their portfolios of corruption.

If you’ve ever had the feeling that the system is out for itself at your expense, well, look no further. A riveting, maddening yarn that is causing quite a stir already, including calls for regulatory reform.

Pub Date: March 31, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-393-24466-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

A compelling, astute chronicle of the politics and culture of late-20th-century America.

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THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE

THE FALL OF NIXON AND THE RISE OF REAGAN

How Ronald Reagan lost the presidency and won the heart of America.

Building on his first two books—Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (2001) and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008)—Perlstein once again delivers a terrific hybrid biography of a Republican leader and the culture he shaped. Where Perlstein's Nixon was the cynic in chief who exploited resentment and frustration to get elected, his Reagan is the star of his own pseudo-reality show, who “framed even the most traumatic events in his life—even his father’s funeral—as always working out gloriously in the end, evidence that the universe was just.” Although the book only goes up to Reagan's loss of the 1976 Republican nomination to President Gerald Ford, the scope of the work never feels limited. Perlstein examines the skeletons in the Reagan, Ford and Carter closets, finds remarkable overlooked details and perfectly captures the dead-heat drama of the Republican convention. Just as deftly, he taps into the consciousness of bicentennial America. He sees this world with fresh eyes; for Perlstein, 1970s America wasn’t the "Me Decade"—a phrase he never uses—so much as the Fear Decade, when a paranoid country was beside itself with worry over CIA revelations, killer bees, abortion, losing the Panama Canal and the grim possibility that you could lose your children (whether Linda Blair or Patty Hearst) to the dark side. Always at the center of the narrative is Reagan, the self-appointed hero who assured a jittery populace that Vietnam and Watergate were just bad dreams. He was America’s cheerleader, the slick beast slouching toward Washington, waiting to be born again.

A compelling, astute chronicle of the politics and culture of late-20th-century America.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-8241-6

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

First-rate reporting informs this thrilling narrative of hope.

FORCING THE SPRING

INSIDE THE FIGHT FOR MARRIAGE EQUALITY

New York Times reporter delivers a gripping narrative about the recent court battles involving California’s Proposition 8 (which outlawed gay marriage) and the Defense of Marriage Act.

In her note at the end, Becker writes that she enjoyed virtually unfettered access to the unlikely legal team that joined the opponents of Bush v. Gore (2000), conservative Ted Olson and liberal David Boies, in their battle against Prop 8 in the federal court system. But Olson and Boies aren’t the only notables. Becker also focuses on strategist Chad Griffin, on Hollywood’s contributions (especially the unrelenting efforts of Rob Reiner), Chuck Cooper (the lawyer for the opposition—he did not give the same access, but he was generous with post-trial interviews) and, of course, the four plaintiffs in the suit. (A California marriage in the final chapter is a genuine tear-jerker.) Although the author pauses occasionally to supply some background and/or history—the Dred Scott case, Brown v. Board of Education—her momentum is resolutely forward, her writing so brisk and urgent that even though we know the outcome, the tension in the courtroom scenes and the intervals of waiting for decisions remain taut, even nerve-wracking. Becker’s access gives us insights into other aspects of the story, as well—the deliberations within the Obama administration, the pro–gay marriage statements of Vice President Biden that seemed to animate the president, and the thinking in the Justice Department. She gives a gripping account of the trial in the U.S. District Court (with some fine analysis of the role of Judge Vaughn Walker, gay himself), some of which she reproduces directly from court records. Becker follows the case from there to the U.S. Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court, where we listen to the oral arguments and follow the sometimes-twisted thinking of the justices.

First-rate reporting informs this thrilling narrative of hope.

Pub Date: April 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59420-444-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

Emotionally profound, necessary reading.

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JUST MERCY

A distinguished NYU law professor and MacArthur grant recipient offers the compelling story of the legal practice he founded to protect the rights of people on the margins of American society.

Stevenson began law school at Harvard knowing only that the life path he would follow would have something to do with [improving] the lives of the poor.” An internship at the Atlanta-based Southern Prisoners Defense Committee in 1983 not only put him into contact with death row prisoners, but also defined his professional trajectory. In 1989, the author opened a nonprofit legal center, the Equal Justice Initiative, in Alabama, a state with some of the harshest, most rigid capital punishment laws in the country. Underfunded and chronically overloaded by requests for help, his organization worked tirelessly on behalf of men, women and children who, for reasons of race, mental illness, lack of money and/or family support, had been victimized by the American justice system. One of Stevenson’s first and most significant cases involved a black man named Walter McMillian. Wrongly accused of the murder of a white woman, McMillian found himself on death row before a sentence had even been determined. Though EJI secured his release six years later, McMillian “received no money, no assistance [and] no counseling” for the imprisonment that would eventually contribute to a tragic personal decline. In the meantime, Stevenson would also experience his own personal crisis. “You can’t effectively fight abusive power, poverty, inequality, illness, oppression, or injustice and not be broken by it,” he writes. Yet he would emerge from despair, believing that it was only by acknowledging brokenness that individuals could begin to understand the importance of tempering imperfect justice with mercy and compassion.

Emotionally profound, necessary reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9452-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

Deeply researched, ingeniously argued.

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THE PROBLEM OF SLAVERY IN THE AGE OF EMANCIPATION

A distinguished historian brings his monumental trilogy to a stirring conclusion.

Throughout a lifetime of scholarship devoted to the subject, Davis (Emeritus, History/Yale Univ.; Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World, 2006, etc.) has more than established his bona fides as a leading authority on slavery. Here, he considers the decades between the 1780s and the 1880s and the moral achievement of the eradication of human bondage. He eschews a survey in favor of a “highly selective” study of aspects of the Age of Emancipation, particularly as manifest in Britain and the United States. As a predicate, Davis discusses the dehumanizing of slaves (and the scientific racism that perfected this notion), a sordid piece of work that impeded any thought of immediate emancipation, and the Haitian revolution, an example of self-emancipation that horrified whites and was a source of unending pride and hope to abolitionists like Frederick Douglass. The author’s treatment of Britain’s abolition of the slave trade and its emancipation act and America’s grappling with the problem of slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War and the 13th Amendment rests on the impeccable scholarship we’ve come to expect, but the triumph here is the sympathetic imagination he brings to the topic. For example, his thorough and intriguing discussion of the American Colonization Society and the colonization movement, a phenomenon derided by many modern historians, helps us understand how the notion arose, how it attracted right-thinking individuals from Jefferson to Lincoln, and how it became discredited, in no small part due to the efforts of free blacks. In a memorable passage, Davis places himself in the minds of a free black abolitionist and a white abolitionist in the antebellum North to articulate attitudes and illustrate the tensions, even among allies, in a noble struggle.

Deeply researched, ingeniously argued.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-307-26909-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 4, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013

Though some readers may find the narrative occasionally tedious, this is a complicated story involving staggering...

THE HALF HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD

SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICAN CAPITALISM

A dense, myth-busting work that pursues how the world profited from American slavery.

The story of slavery in America is not static, as Baptist (History/Cornell Univ.; Creating an Old South: Middle Florida's Plantation Frontier before the Civil War, 2001) points out in this exhaustive tome. It entailed wide-scale forced migrations from the lower East Coast to the South and West of the economically burgeoning United States. Following tobacco production along the Chesapeake Bay, slavery was embraced in the newly opened territories of Kentucky and Mississippi, where slaves were force-marched in coffles, separated from families, bought and sold to new owners, and then used to clear fields and plant indigo and the new cash crop, cotton. Although some advanced attempts to ban slavery—e.g., in the Northwest Ordinance—the newly hammered-out Constitution codified it by the Three-Fifths Compromise. In the name of unity, the delegates agreed with South Carolina’s John Rutledge that “religion and humanity [have] nothing to do with this question. Interest alone is the governing principle with nations.” Using the metaphor of a trussed-up giant body à la Gulliver, Baptist divides his chapters by body parts, through which he viscerally delineates the effects of the violence of slavery—e.g., “Feet” encapsulates the experience of forced migration through intimate stories, while “Right Hand” and “Left Hand” explore the insidious methods of the “enslavers” to solidify their holdings. Baptist moves chronologically, though in a roundabout fashion, often backtracking and repeating, and thoroughly examines every area affected by slavery, from New Orleans to Boston, Kansas to Cuba. He challenges the comfortable myth of “Yankee ingenuity” as our founding growth principle, showing how cotton picking drove U.S. exports and finance from 1800 to 1860—as well as the expansion of Northern industry.

Though some readers may find the narrative occasionally tedious, this is a complicated story involving staggering scholarship that adds greatly to our understanding of the history of the United States.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-465-00296-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

A well-researched, unsettling investigation of recent trends in the nation’s highest court.

UNCERTAIN JUSTICE

THE ROBERTS COURT AND THE CONSTITUTION

With Chief Justice John Roberts' leadership of the Supreme Court approaching its 10th anniversary, Tribe (Constitutional Law/Harvard Univ.; The Invisible Constitution, 2008, etc.) and Matz, who clerks for a federal judge, provide a perspective on the changes reflected in the court's decision-making patterns.

The co-authors cooperate in a near-forensic dissection of the court's work under Roberts, comparing the arguments of each justice on a case-by-case basis. Many of their conclusions will be eye-openers for general readers. Contrary perhaps to expectation, this is not merely an account of a consistent five-member conservative majority against a liberal minority. Conservatives—e.g., Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito—can differ from each other as much as they do from liberals like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Tribe and Matz fully address legal, philosophical and political motivations, and they document the general direction taking shape as one that tends to reverse law in many areas established since the New Deal. The authors systematically examine how the conflicting opinions on the court are coming together to reformulate the law's understanding of the Constitution in practice. The justices have focused much attention on cases that involve technical rules of procedure. In these cases, the court has favored big business and limited the rights of individuals to seek remedies through the courts for perceived wrongs. They have also used procedural cases to confer “near-total immunity on prosecutors and police,” even undercutting aspects of Miranda rights. Certain decisions on integration, voter rights and affirmative action have raised questions about plaintiffs' future abilities to pursue any rights case in the courts. The court’s decisions have also been geared toward establishing a new balance between federal and state governments and redefining congressional responsibility regarding the economy.

A well-researched, unsettling investigation of recent trends in the nation’s highest court.

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9909-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

A unique moment in history superbly captured. Yet another triumph for Wright.

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THIRTEEN DAYS IN SEPTEMBER

CARTER, BEGIN, AND SADAT AT CAMP DAVID

A Pulitzer Prize–winning author reconstructs and reflects on “one of the great diplomatic triumphs of the twentieth century” and the men who made it happen.

Even though the contemplated regional framework for peace collapsed, the 1978 agreement forged at Camp David between Israel and Egypt has held, a remarkable achievement in the tortured history of the Middle East, “where antique grudges never lose their stranglehold on the societies in their grip.” New Yorker staff writer Wright (Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, 2013, etc.) presents a day-by-day account of the tense negotiations, artfully mixing in modern and ancient history, biblical allusions, portraits of the principals—Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat—and thumbnail sketches of key participants: Americans Cyrus Vance and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Israelis Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizman, and Egyptians Mohamed Ibrahim Kamel and Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The author examines all the forces that shaped these historic talks: the isolation imposed by the presidential retreat high in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains; the divisions within the Egyptian and Israeli delegations; the almost unprecedented nature of detailed negotiations conducted not by subordinates but by the heads of state; the hazardous political stakes for each leader and the powerful role played by their deeply held religious beliefs; the critical part played by President Jimmy Carter, who moved adroitly from facilitator to catalyst to secure an agreement. Throughout, telling detail abounds: Rosalynn Carter spontaneously suggesting to her husband that the intransigents should come to the beautiful and peaceful Camp David to revive stalled talks; Begin startling his hosts on a brief outing to the Gettysburg battlefield by reciting Lincoln’s entire address from memory; Carter dramatically accusing Sadat of betrayal and, at one point, thinking to himself that Begin was a “psycho”; Israel’s fiercest warrior, Dayan, by then going blind, bloodying his nose by walking into a tree; Begin bursting into tears as Carter presents him with conference photos inscribed to each of the prime minister’s grandchildren.

A unique moment in history superbly captured. Yet another triumph for Wright.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0385352031

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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