An impassioned, significant book from a newsman who made a difference.




A feisty newspaper editor speaks from the heart and the heartland.

In 2017, Cullen, editor and half-owner (with his brother, the founder) of the twice-weekly newspaper the Storm Lake Times, won a Pulitzer Prize for, as the judges wrote, “editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.” Those qualities are on ample display in the author’s first book, a hard-hitting, urgent, and eloquent portrait of his home town, “a dot of political blue” in a state that has emerged as a forecaster of national politics. Part memoir and family history, Cullen’s sharp political critique chronicles the dramatic changes and challenges faced by Storm Lake in the last four decades. Aiming to “print the truth and raise hell,” he has taken on issues such as pollution, climate change, gun rights, immigration, political corruption, and the inexorable advent of industrial agriculture, dominated by Monsanto and Koch Fertilizer, which has promoted “a way of doing business more sacred than the life of the community.” Abetted by politicians, corporate agriculture “got a green light to charge full speed ahead” until his newspaper’s reporting “revealed who pulls the marionette strings” in Iowa. An informed electorate, writes the author, must be willing to take on stewardship of the Earth: “It doesn’t cost billions more to let rivers run clean. It takes a conscience.” Besides exposing the fouling of lake and soil, his paper helped Storm Lake’s largely white community understand—and welcome—an influx of aspiring newcomers from around the world. Cullen excoriates the “brand of radical politics steeped in resentment” fomented by Donald Trump and Iowa’s Republican congressman Steve King, “the voice of the hardscrabble western part of the state that forever thinks it has been forgotten and neglected and flown over.” Trump’s victory in 2016, Cullen asserts, does not predict the outcome for 2018 or 2020. Iowans, he alerts Democrats, are “yearning for a revival message” rather than “the message that tears down.”

An impassioned, significant book from a newsman who made a difference.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-55887-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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


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.


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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