An important dispatch from a journalist in the trenches.

BRING ME MY MACHINE GUN

THE BATTLE FOR THE SOUL OF SOUTH AFRICA FROM MANDELA TO ZUMA

Financial Times world news editor Russell (Big Men, Little People: The Leaders Who Defined Africa, 2000, etc.) offers a cogent study of the political perils ensnaring South Africa since the fall of apartheid.

The author admits that he, like many other interested observers, was “seduced by the outward signs of change” when the serene reign of moral leader Nelson Mandela was followed by technocrat Thabo Mbeki in 1999. At this time, a black middle class seemed to be emerging. However, by 2008 Mbeki had lost touch with the people and was ousted by his party, the African National Congress (ANC), paving the way for the populist insurgency of the largely uneducated, scandal-ridden “Big Man” Jacob Zuma. (The book’s title is taken from Zuma’s “signature anthem.”) Having observed the charismatic Zuma in action, Russell compares him to “a revivalist preacher or the leader of a cult.” The author tracks the numerous political pitfalls since Mandela’s “sainthood,” covering much of the same territory as South African journalist Mark Gevisser’s upcoming biography of Thabo Mbeki, A Legacy of Liberation. Russell also considers some of the most pressing issues that the post-liberation country faces: the incendiary problem of race relations still plaguing whites and blacks, exacerbated by the huge disparity in wealth; internal rifts within the ANC, which had to adapt from a liberation movement to a modern political party; the culture of violence and failure of law enforcement; the urgent need for land-ownership reform; and the necessity of redressing Mbeki’s disastrous denial of the AIDS epidemic. Casting their shadow over South Africa are numerous other sub-Saharan liberation movements that have morphed into authoritarianism, corruption and ethnic strife, such as in Angola and Zimbabwe. Russell offers a sobering look at how South Africa must “buck [this] depressing trend.”

An important dispatch from a journalist in the trenches.

Pub Date: April 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-58648-738-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2009

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Not flawless, but one of the best recent analyses of the contemporary woes of American economics and politics.

WHO STOLE THE AMERICAN DREAM?

Remarkably comprehensive and coherent analysis of and prescriptions for America’s contemporary economic malaise by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Smith (Rethinking America, 1995, etc.).

“Over the past three decades,” writes the author, “we have become Two Americas.” We have arrived at a new Gilded Age, where “gross inequality of income and wealth” have become endemic. Such inequality is not simply the result of “impersonal and irresistible market forces,” but of quite deliberate corporate strategies and the public policies that enabled them. Smith sets out on a mission to trace the history of these strategies and policies, which transformed America from a roughly fair society to its current status as a plutocracy. He leaves few stones unturned. CEO culture has moved since the 1970s from a concern for the general well-being of society, including employees, to the single-minded pursuit of personal enrichment and short-term increases in stock prices. During much of the ’70s, CEO pay was roughly 40 times a worker’s pay; today that number is 367. Whether it be through outsourcing and factory closings, corporate reneging on once-promised contributions to employee health and retirement funds, the deregulation of Wall Street and the financial markets, a tax code which favors overwhelmingly the interests of corporate heads and the superrich—all of which Smith examines in fascinating detail—the American middle class has been left floundering. For its part, government has simply become an enabler and partner of the rich, as the rich have turned wealth into political influence and rigid conservative opposition has created the politics of gridlock. What, then, is to be done? Here, Smith’s brilliant analyses turn tepid, as he advocates for “a peaceful political revolution at the grassroots” to realign the priorities of government and the economy but offers only the vaguest of clues as to how this might occur.

Not flawless, but one of the best recent analyses of the contemporary woes of American economics and politics.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6966-8

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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An educational and inspiring biography of seminal American innovators.

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THE WRIGHT BROTHERS

A charmingly pared-down life of the “boys” that grounds their dream of flight in decent character and work ethic.

There is a quiet, stoical awe to the accomplishments of these two unprepossessing Ohio brothers in this fluently rendered, skillfully focused study by two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning and two-time National Book Award–winning historian McCullough (The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, 2011, etc.). The author begins with a brief yet lively depiction of the Wright home dynamic: reeling from the death of their mother from tuberculosis in 1889, the three children at home, Wilbur, Orville, and Katharine, had to tend house, as their father, an itinerant preacher, was frequently absent. McCullough highlights the intellectual stimulation that fed these bookish, creative, close-knit siblings. Wilbur was the most gifted, yet his parents’ dreams of Yale fizzled after a hockey accident left the boy with a mangled jaw and broken teeth. The boys first exhibited their mechanical genius in their print shop and then in their bicycle shop, which allowed them the income and space upstairs for machine-shop invention. Dreams of flight were reawakened by reading accounts by Otto Lilienthal and other learned treatises and, specifically, watching how birds flew. Wilbur’s dogged writing to experts such as civil engineer Octave Chanute and the Smithsonian Institute provided advice and response, as others had long been preoccupied by controlled flight. Testing their first experimental glider took the Wrights over several seasons to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to experiment with their “wing warping” methods. There, the strange, isolated locals marveled at these most “workingest boys,” and the brothers continually reworked and repaired at every step. McCullough marvels at their success despite a lack of college education, technical training, “friends in high places” or “financial backers”—they were just boys obsessed by a dream and determined to make it reality.

An educational and inspiring biography of seminal American innovators.

Pub Date: May 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-2874-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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