Disturbing but superbly insightful.

SPIES, LIES, AND ALGORITHMS

THE HISTORY AND FUTURE OF AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE

Books on American intelligence rarely bring cheerful news. This expert account is no exception, but it’s particularly astute.

A contributing writer at the Atlantic, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, and author of Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11, Zegart reports that the digital age has made intelligence gathering vastly more difficult. Agencies once concentrated on foreign governments and terrorists. “Today,” writes the author, “they also have to understand American tech giants—and how malign actors can use our own inventions against us.” The National Security Agency, the traditional big data behemoth, faces competition from Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon, and Twitter and Facebook have become disinformation highways. Zegart warns that Americans get most of their ideas on intelligence agencies from the movies: Torture always works. Heroes break the law, ignore ethics, and act without mercy against America’s enemies. The author recounts triumphs and debacles but mostly delivers a splendid education in psychology and political science as she explains the role, operation, and limitations of intelligence. Intelligence organizations provide information, never policy, which is politicians’ responsibility, and bad things happen when they forget this. All services gather data, which becomes intelligence only when it is analyzed and used to make predictions. Unfortunately, intelligence predictions are too often wrong, for reasons the author explains in a brilliant section, “The Seven Deadly Biases,” which should be taught in schools along with multiplication tables. According to confirmation bias, humans (not excluding analysts) readily accept facts that confirm what they believe and reject those that contradict it. Readers who assume that catching spies and covert action are straightforward and that Congress keeps an eye on our intelligence services will learn the error of their ways. Zegart’s conclusion offers further unsettling news: In the wireless 21st-century world, espionage, sabotage, and brainwashing are no longer the province of government agencies; nearly anyone with an internet connection can do it.

Disturbing but superbly insightful.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-691-14713-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

THE WAR ON THE WEST

A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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