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



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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 21

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?