This superbly researched and well-reasoned case for informed voting deftly emphasizes democratic traditions.

THE UNINFORMED VOTER

A political work warns readers about the costs of an uninformed electorate.

As a prolific author, physician, and clinical professor at Yale University, Levine has produced scholarship mostly centered on aging and health care reform. In this book, he offers a cautionary tale about a rising tide of a “general lack of knowledge of how government works” and “tribalism,” which he considers fundamental threats to America’s democratic tradition. As of 2017, international studies of the globe’s most liberal democracies ranked the United States 31st in the world, a significant decline from previous years. The author convincingly—and shockingly—demonstrates widespread ignorance among Americans toward their elected representatives and the basic organization of government itself. Just as problematic to Levine is political apathy, when a majority of eligible voters fail to even show up in off-year elections. The book’s strength lies in its international approach, placing America within the context of a global shift from democracy to autocracy, with examples of Russia, Turkey, Hungary, and the Philippines serving as warnings against populist and nationalist governments drawn to authoritarianism. The volume’s title and underlying premise may be off-putting to some readers who will be uncomfortable with blaming America’s current political crisis on ignorant voters (the majority of whom cast their ballots against the nationalist, populist candidate Donald Trump in 2016). They instead may place the blame on the undemocratic nature of the Electoral College itself. Though occasionally elitist in their characterization of American voters, some of Levine’s chapters highlight the role of disenfranchisement, gerrymandering, and political corruption as contributing factors to the nation’s democratic decline. Well-researched with ample footnotes that demonstrate a firm grasp of contemporary scholarship on the subject, the work also features excellent chapters on the philosophical origins of democracy and the history of threats to the American system (for instance, contested presidential elections in 1876, 1960, and 2000 and political scandals like Watergate and the Iran-Contra Affair). Deliberately nonpartisan in its approach, the book concludes with a chapter on practical electoral reforms, such as ranked-choice voting and the revamping of primaries.

This superbly researched and well-reasoned case for informed voting deftly emphasizes democratic traditions.

Pub Date: April 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-977225-87-0

Page Count: 366

Publisher: Outskirts Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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