A simultaneously enlightening and disturbing look at working-class lives in America’s heartland.

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JANESVILLE

AN AMERICAN STORY

A Midwestern town struggles to survive in the aftermath of an economic disaster.

Based on three years of probing interviews, Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post journalist Goldstein makes her literary debut with an engrossing investigation of Janesville, Wisconsin, where General Motors, the town’s major employer, closed its plant in 2008. Like Barbara Ehrenreich and George Packer, Goldstein reveals the shattering consequences of the plant’s closing through an evenhanded portrayal of workers, educators, business and community leaders, and politicians—notably, Paul Ryan, a Janesville native who swept into town periodically. Like other politicians, Ryan made promises that proved empty. In 2012, Janesville voters chose Barack Obama over their native son. In 2016, when Wisconsin broke with its Democratic tradition and voted Republican, 52 percent of voters in Janesville’s county supported Hillary Clinton. Janesville exemplifies the plight of many cities after sustaining industry leaves. Unemployment rose to 13 percent, and many former GM workers opted for federally subsidized job training. Yet such training, Goldstein discovered, rarely leads to solid employment. The head of the local community college, deluged with new students, found them shockingly deficient in skills: she designed a “boot camp” for students who did not know how to turn on a computer and a student success course for those with poor study skills. Many dropped out in frustration; some opted for any part-time work they could find; and the few who persisted often faced lack of job opportunities. Families struggled to pay mortgages for houses quickly becoming devalued, and they faced daunting medical costs without health coverage. Business leaders stepped in with optimistic reform measures, but their self-congratulatory work had little effect. Those in social services, repeatedly disappointed and disillusioned by lack of government interest, did manage to devise effective support strategies. The author saw the growing divide of two Janesvilles whose views were evident in the election, recall, and triumph of the anti-union governor, Scott Walker. Although by 2013, the town had recovered to some extent, most workers earned far below their former wages.

A simultaneously enlightening and disturbing look at working-class lives in America’s heartland.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-0223-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

FRONT ROW AT THE TRUMP SHOW

The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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