A book that both clarifies and complicates the laws surrounding treason, which explains why it is so rarely invoked.



A law professor delivers a fluent, case-rich examination of the laws governing treason and its punishment.

If you are of a certain political bent, it is indisputable that by colluding with Russia (and, apparently, China too), Donald Trump committed traitorous acts. If you are Trump, meanwhile, you fling the word “treason” about with abandon when, say, Democratic representatives do not stand up to applaud you. Neither party interprets the law correctly, writes Larson, a law professor and leading authority on treason. There are technical determinants, one of which is that one must engage in a formal act of war against one’s own country, which, as it turns out, is “constitutional quicksand.” Trump may clearly take Russia’s interests to be his own against those of the nation over which he ostensibly presides, but Russia and the U.S. are not at war—not officially, anyway. What of Jefferson Davis, who waged war on this country? Quicksand again: A prosecuting attorney would have to establish that secession is constitutionally forbidden and then seat a jury that would find the defendant guilty, no easy matter since the crime took place in Virginia. And Jane Fonda, who broadcast anti-war messages from Hanoi? Now the question emerges: Was the U.S. officially at war? Even though by some precedents a formal declaration was not necessary, the government under Nixon decided not to prosecute—perhaps, Larson ventures, because “a prosecution of Fonda risked exposing Nixon’s own activities with respect to Vietnam, which were hardly honorable.” In the end, writes the author, even though today “many Americans have a powerful desire to define conduct that they find reprehensively disloyal as treason,” the law is seldom applied—just once, in fact, over the course of the nation’s history—and for very good reason. Though bound up in highly technical legal arguments, Larson examines the notion clearly and accessibly.

A book that both clarifies and complicates the laws surrounding treason, which explains why it is so rarely invoked.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-299616-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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