General readers may skim some sections, but the book contains solid, useful information to learn before the 2020 election.

WHY DO WE STILL HAVE THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE?

Why the Electoral College system has survived more than two centuries of opposition to its obvious imperfections.

Featuring nearly 120 pages of endnotes, this is clearly a scholarly book that will appeal most to specialists and policymakers. Amid the obviously deeply researched scholarship, Keyssar, a professor of history and social policy at Harvard, clearly explains the numerous objections to the Electoral College and the reasons those objections have never gained enough traction for reform to occur. An overly simplified explanation involves the desire to maintain the status quo instead of tinkering with “new arrangements that might have unintended consequences.” Keyssar devotes some attention to the EC anomaly of Donald Trump in 2016 but digs more deeply into the history. The author begins with the Constitutional Convention in 1787, “where the framers of the Constitution struggled to figure out the best way for a new kingless nation to choose a chief executive.” Within a decade, certain “problems” surfaced, which required the “adoption of the Twelfth Amendment in 1804.” However, as Keyssar shows throughout the book, little has changed since the early 19th century. Much of the reform effort has focused on the winner-take-all-provision in each state on Election Day. A national popular vote, minus the EC mechanism, seemed like an obvious fix, but that idea never generated adequate momentum and “was essentially a nonstarter until the second half of the twentieth century.” Further Constitutional amendments could have accomplished change, but that process is difficult to achieve regarding most issues. As efforts at solutions emanate mostly from the state government level, Keyssar explains the possibility of the current movement to free state electors from unquestioningly confirming the winner-take-all tradition. The author, who also offers cogent discussions of the role that race has played over the decades, believes the only way to parse the enduring illogic of a flawed system is the close study of historical forces.

General readers may skim some sections, but the book contains solid, useful information to learn before the 2020 election.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-66015-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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