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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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