A perceptive, well-informed take on a vital though rarely celebrated tradition in American politics.

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

A historical study profiles United States senators who took unpopular stands against wars.

Amchan explores the actions of a handful of senators who tried to block a rush toward war or end an ongoing conflict, often at serious cost to their political careers. He devotes the bulk of the book to opponents of the Vietnam War. These include Democrats Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska, the only two senators to vote against the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution giving the Johnson administration a blank check to prosecute the war. At a time when Cold War anti-communism was virtually unchallengeable, they called the conflict illegal and unconstitutional, with Gruening denouncing the “plain murder” of American servicemen sent to fight. Both lost their seats in the 1968 election. Democratic Sens. George McGovern of South Dakota and Frank Church of Idaho were more circumspect but more effective, in the author’s telling. Both hesitantly voted for the Tonkin Resolution but took increasingly dovish positions as the war dragged on. McGovern became the anti-war Democratic nominee in the 1972 presidential election while Church co-authored measures that banned funding for the war in Indochina in 1973 and then chaired groundbreaking hearings into abuses by U.S. intelligence agencies. Both kept their seats until the 1980 Ronald Reagan landslide. Amchan also spotlights Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, a more recent dove, who opposed former Presidents H.W. Bush's and George W. Bush's wars against Iraq and died in a plane crash amid a 2002 re-election campaign. The volume finishes with a look at Republican Sen. Robert La Follette Sr. of Wisconsin, a leading opponent of America’s entry into World War I. His epic anti-war speeches, which harped on the supposed machinations of profiteers, provoked cries of treason and a move to expel him from the Senate.

Amchan’s biographical sketches note the importance of ideological commitments and conscience in anti-war activism. Gruening, for example, was a member of the Anti-Imperialist League and a critic of U.S. support for Latin American dictators while McGovern, a pilot in World War II, was haunted by the belief that he may have killed innocents by accidentally bombing a farmhouse. But the author also examines the fog of political calculation and uncertainty that shaped the senators’ moves—La Follette had a sizable German American constituency, for example, while McGovern and Church were taken in by misleading government claims about the Tonkin Gulf incident—and how changing facts on the ground altered public opinion and opened or closed possibilities for dissent. Amchan’s prose is lucid, if somewhat dry, and his narrative features dramatic confrontations—“This chamber literally reeks of blood,” thundered McGovern in a speech to pro-war colleagues—set against knowledgeable and insightful (but sometimes repetitive) backgrounds on the conflicts. While the author is sympathetic to his subjects’ stances, he is also cleareyed and judicious about the blind spots in anti-war politics. (“The hawks were deluding themselves into believing they could bomb the Vietnamese Communists into submission,” he writes, while “the doves were deluding themselves into believing that the Vietnamese Communists would accept any arrangement that did not ultimately result in a united Vietnam under Communist rule.”) The result is a sophisticated and illuminating discussion of some iconically courageous and divisive political stands.

A perceptive, well-informed take on a vital though rarely celebrated tradition in American politics.

Pub Date: Aug. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9617132-8-7

Page Count: 195

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020


Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023


Dillard’s story reflects maturity and understanding from someone who was forced to mature and understand too much too soon.

A measured memoir from a daughter of the famous family.

Growing up in the Institute of Basic Life Principles community, which she came to realize was “a cult, thriving on a culture of fear and manipulation,” Duggar and her 18 siblings were raised never to question parental authority. As the author recalls, she felt no need to, describing the loving home of her girlhood. When a documentary crew approached her father, Jim Bob, and proposed first a series of TV specials that would be called 17 Kids and Counting (later 18 and 19 Kids and Counting), he agreed, telling his family that this was a chance to share their conservative Christian faith. It was also a chance to become wealthy, but Jill, who was dedicated to following the rules, didn’t question where the money went. A key to her falling out with her family was orchestrated by Jim Bob, who introduced her to missionary Derick Dillard. Their wedding was one of the most-watched episodes of the series. Even though she was an adult, Jill’s parents and the show continued to expect more of the young couple. When they attempted to say no to filming some aspects of their lives, Jill discovered that a sheet of paper her father asked her to sign the day before her wedding was part of a contract in which she had unwittingly agreed to full cooperation. Writing about her sex offender brother, Josh, and the legal action she and Derick had to take to get their questions answered, Jill describes how she was finally able—through therapy, prayer, and the establishment of boundaries—to reconcile love for her parents with Jim Bob’s deception and reframe her faith outside the IBLP.

Dillard’s story reflects maturity and understanding from someone who was forced to mature and understand too much too soon.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781668024447

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: today

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2023

Close Quickview