A relentlessly depressing but revelatory and necessary historical account.



A frighteningly timely book about a particularly ugly period in American history, a bigotry-riddled chapter many thought was closed but that shows recent signs of reopening.

In his latest book, Okrent (Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, 2010, etc.), the former managing editor of Life magazine and editor at large at Time Inc., chronicles a time when white-supremacist policymakers joined forces with pseudo-scientists promoting eugenics, creating widespread anti-immigration sentiment throughout the country. The author’s prodigious archival research covers the final decades of the 19th century and culminates in 1924, when Congress and President Calvin Coolidge passed the Johnson-Reed Act, the most restrictive immigration law in U.S. history; that act set quotas for various foreign nations. The formula used to determine the nation-by-nation numbers intentionally excluded not only would-be immigrants deemed inferior to white Christians, but also stranded people desperate to leave their home countries because of persecution and possible death. In the New York Times, one headline read, “America of the Melting Pot Comes to an End.” Much of the book focuses on policymaking, but Okrent does not stop there. One of the narrative’s great strengths is the author’s inclusion of dozens of minibiographies illuminating the backgrounds of the racist politicians and the promoters of phony eugenics “research.” Okrent keeps his personal commentary about these individuals to a minimum while presenting their biographies and the findings of their eugenics studies. Through the skilled, subtle use of language, however, Okrent makes clear that most of these immigration restrictionists were privileged bigots deserving of little respect. Sadly, there are few heroes in the book, though it’s certainly no fault of the author. Perhaps the most surprising villain is iconic book editor Maxwell Perkins. Legendary for his editing of novelists Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe, among many others, Perkins also edited two books by famed eugenicist Madison Grant, including The Passing of the Great Race, which argued for the superiority of the Nordic race.

A relentlessly depressing but revelatory and necessary historical account.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9803-5

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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


“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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