A must-read. The gun’s not quite smoking, but the barrel’s plenty hot, and there are Russian shell casings all around.

AMERICAN KOMPROMAT

HOW THE KGB CULTIVATED DONALD TRUMP, AND RELATED TALES OF SEX, GREED, POWER, AND TREACHERY

Is Donald Trump a Russian asset? Yes, according to longtime president-watcher and journalist Unger, who builds on and extends the case he built in House of Trump, House of Putin.

It’s not news that well before becoming president, Trump revealed himself to be “a tyrant who had mesmerized tens of millions of people, and that it didn’t matter to them what he said or did”—or that he has long been suspected of owing a profound debt to Russia and that the place to look for it is in the tax returns he keeps hidden. Unger’s book is valuable primarily because he connects any number of loose ends, even if the result may sound like a conspiracy theory. Point 1: Trump owes Russia big, and while in office, he was ever eager to please. Point 2: Russia began to cultivate him long before the Soviet Union collapsed. Point 3: It all comes down to money. Point 4: There are connections among Opus Dei, the Trump administration, and the “world of decadence and depravity tied to figures like Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell.” Unger links all of this to what CIA sources call the “Monster Plot,” which posits that Russia placed an asset or agent “at the very top” of the U.S. government to make it collapse. Trump was ideal. As one Russian handler noted, “in terms of his personality…the guy is not a complicated cookie, his most important characteristics being low intellect coupled with hyperinflated vanity. This combination makes him a dream for an experienced recruiter.” The believability of Unger’s case lies less in these points laid bare than in the fact that one can see them in abundant evidence in the actions of Trump and his allies, from leaving Syria to Russia to packing the Supreme Court and Justice Department with right-wing Catholics—nefarious work that will take years to undo even as Trump continues to attempt to bring about “the end of democracy.”

A must-read. The gun’s not quite smoking, but the barrel’s plenty hot, and there are Russian shell casings all around.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18253-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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

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A PROMISED LAND

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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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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