A mixture of passion, dismay and cynicism, with streaks of perhaps hopeless hope.

BREACH OF TRUST

HOW AMERICANS FAILED THEIR SOLDIERS AND THEIR COUNTRY

A former military officer and current professor assails the concept of the current all-volunteer Army and the general disconnect between the military and civilians.

Bacevich (History and International Relations/Boston Univ.; Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War, 2010, etc.) offers a subtitle that is more than a little misleading, suggesting as it does that his complaint is a general failure to “support our troops.” Instead, the author sees the widespread support-the-troops sentiments only as periodic feel-good moments for citizens who otherwise have nothing to do with the fighting and dying—and as crass opportunities for merchandisers. He takes us back to the anti-war sentiments fomented by the draft during the Vietnam War, noting that in our earlier wars, our practice had been to have an Army comprised of citizen-soldiers: everyone’s involved; everyone’s affected. No more. After 9/11, writes Bacevich, came the “great decoupling”—it was then that President George W. Bush told us to go on shopping and living as if we were not at war. The author notes the current widespread apathy about our armed conflicts. After some sections dealing with the Cold War and its aftermath, Bacevich blasts our moves in the Middle East and our outsourcing of military functions to private contractors (who, he notes, have made vast fortunes). He writes with deep skepticism about our declarations of “victory” in Iraq and Afghanistan, where a World War II–type conclusion is impossible. He goes after some individuals, too; among them is Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whose understanding of the challenges in Afghanistan, Bacevich claims, were “spectacularly arrogant or stunningly obtuse.” The author argues that the current system benefits only those in power and that the national security state does little but enrich some people and keep them in power. He deals with topics ranging from Israel to drone strikes, and he ends by advocating public service for all.

A mixture of passion, dismay and cynicism, with streaks of perhaps hopeless hope.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8050-8296-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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