An accomplished, authoritative history of American liberalism.

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THE HOUSE OF TRUTH

A WASHINGTON POLITICAL SALON AND THE FOUNDATIONS OF AMERICAN LIBERALISM

The history of a Washington, D.C., residence that served as a crucible for liberal ideas and strategies.

In 1912, a row house in DuPont Circle was dubbed the “House of Truth” by its original residents: labor relations expert Robert G. Valentine and lawyers Winfred Denison, Loring Christie, and Felix Frankfurter. Through the years, many others made their home there: among them, outspoken journalist Walter Lippmann, one of the founders of the New Republic; and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Louis Brandeis, both of whom served on the Supreme Court. Lippmann, Holmes, Brandeis, and Frankfurter dominate Snyder’s (Law/Univ. of Wisconsin; A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports, 2006, etc.) richly detailed history of progressivism, which ends with Franklin Roosevelt’s election in 1932 and Holmes’ death in 1935. Drawing on a wealth of manuscript sources, the author traces the evolving alliances and views of his four passionate and influential protagonists. Except for Holmes, all believed “that government recognition of organized labor would create an industrial democracy.” Except for Holmes, they were Jewish, with varying connections to their heritages and responses to anti-Semitism, which was rampant in government, at Harvard, where Frankfurter taught, and a growing threat in Europe. Brandeis was a leader in American Zionism; Lippmann described Hitler as “the authentic voice of a civilized people.” Although Snyder depicts Holmes with warm admiration, the jurist emerges as a Victorian mired in the 19th century. Brandeis gently urged Holmes to read about “the pressing issues of the day,” but Holmes, Snyder writes, “loathed” facts. The author provides details of liberals’ involvement with each presidential aspirant and winner; with the Paris Peace Conference; with the notorious trial and executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, and many other social and political causes. At times, the sheer amount of information overwhelms the narrative, more appropriate for a reference source than a lively group biography. Nevertheless, the author’s focus on the significance of the Supreme Court makes the book unusually timely.

An accomplished, authoritative history of American liberalism.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-19-026198-6

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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