Though plagued by repetition, the book offers persuasive reasoning to support the author’s thesis.

THE LAND OF ENTERPRISE

A BUSINESS HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

A historian makes his case that the story of private enterprise has been undervalued as a window into the history of the United States.

In a summary of American history that is simultaneously chronological and thematic, Waterhouse (History/Univ. of North Carolina; Lobbying America: The Politics of Business from Nixon to NAFTA, 2014) discusses the commercial aspects of slavery, the rise of factories in the U.S., the development of an impersonal corporate structure for business, battles between government regulators and business executives, and the rise and decline of labor unions, among other threads. He expands on the oft-repeated 1925 quotation of President Calvin Coolidge: “The chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world.” Pointedly referring to the 2008 financial crash in the U.S. and around the world, the author argues that the business history of this country has provided cautionary lessons either ignored by or unknown to the general public. Even during the late 1700s, as the Founding Fathers were forging the Constitution, warring factions debated the role of government in the business realm: should it protect domestic producers or allow foreign producers to undersell American businesses? In each of his 12 chapters, Waterhouse offers a variation of his message that business history constitutes the overarching influence of the nation’s history, but the narrative suffers from cramming too much information into a relatively compact overview. The author notes that not all Americans favored a smooth path to the capitalism that ultimately prevailed, with dissenters concerned about exploitation and oppression of both laborers and consumers. The chapter on the American brand of slavery as instrumental in the building of capitalism offers emotional heft in an otherwise mostly bloodless book.

Though plagued by repetition, the book offers persuasive reasoning to support the author’s thesis.

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4767-6664-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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Not flawless, but one of the best recent analyses of the contemporary woes of American economics and politics.

WHO STOLE THE AMERICAN DREAM?

Remarkably comprehensive and coherent analysis of and prescriptions for America’s contemporary economic malaise by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Smith (Rethinking America, 1995, etc.).

“Over the past three decades,” writes the author, “we have become Two Americas.” We have arrived at a new Gilded Age, where “gross inequality of income and wealth” have become endemic. Such inequality is not simply the result of “impersonal and irresistible market forces,” but of quite deliberate corporate strategies and the public policies that enabled them. Smith sets out on a mission to trace the history of these strategies and policies, which transformed America from a roughly fair society to its current status as a plutocracy. He leaves few stones unturned. CEO culture has moved since the 1970s from a concern for the general well-being of society, including employees, to the single-minded pursuit of personal enrichment and short-term increases in stock prices. During much of the ’70s, CEO pay was roughly 40 times a worker’s pay; today that number is 367. Whether it be through outsourcing and factory closings, corporate reneging on once-promised contributions to employee health and retirement funds, the deregulation of Wall Street and the financial markets, a tax code which favors overwhelmingly the interests of corporate heads and the superrich—all of which Smith examines in fascinating detail—the American middle class has been left floundering. For its part, government has simply become an enabler and partner of the rich, as the rich have turned wealth into political influence and rigid conservative opposition has created the politics of gridlock. What, then, is to be done? Here, Smith’s brilliant analyses turn tepid, as he advocates for “a peaceful political revolution at the grassroots” to realign the priorities of government and the economy but offers only the vaguest of clues as to how this might occur.

Not flawless, but one of the best recent analyses of the contemporary woes of American economics and politics.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6966-8

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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