Those inclined to scorn the sitting president will have all the more reason to do so after reading this seething book.

HOAX

DONALD TRUMP, FOX NEWS, AND THE DANGEROUS DISTORTION OF TRUTH

A deep, dispiriting dive into the nefarious intersection of politics, conspiracy, lies, and money as served up by Donald Trump and Fox News.

There are moments when one feels almost sorry for Trump: His niece has spilled nasty beans about him, and his sister has chided him for lying. It’s all in a day’s work for him. The feeling sorry bit comes when CNN host Stelter suggests that Trump isn’t smart enough to concoct his bizarre gibberish. Instead, it comes straight from the “lie-laundering” Fox News, courtesy mostly of Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Laura Ingraham—and even Hannity, according to one of Stelter’s sources, says “that Trump is a batshit crazy person.” Trump lives by the TV, tuned to Fox unless some now-departed bête noire like Shepard Smith appears, and it’s from Fox that he takes his cues. All of them: a circus of disinformation about lab-hatched viruses, caravans full of terrorists from Guatemala, the “Mueller crime family” that engineered Trump’s scarcely mentioned impeachment, and a host of other alternative takes on reality. Stelter provides genealogies for each of Trump’s peevish prevarications, not least of them the insistence that the truth is a “hoax,” a word that “was uttered more than nine hundred times on Fox News in the first six months of 2020.” That numbing repetition, notes the author, erodes the truth with each mantralike utterance. Fox has needed Trump for ratings—its average viewer is 67, an obviously declining demographic—and Trump has needed Fox to serve as echo chamber and think tank. Each obliges the other: “Fox was the gas station where Trump stopped to fill up his tank of resentment,” and Trump lends Fox influence over U.S. policy. In a long, sordid, cheerless, and endlessly dishy narrative, Stelter indicts all parties involved for leaving the country “without a properly functioning chief executive.” (Editor’s Note: The paperback edition is revised and contains 20,000 more words.)

Those inclined to scorn the sitting president will have all the more reason to do so after reading this seething book.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982142-44-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: One Signal/Atria

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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