A brisk, approachably radical treatise bolstered by its rueful veteran’s perspective.



A scholar/soldier’s jeremiad in favor of “Participatory Principled Patriotism.”

Sjursen, a retired U.S. Army major who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, writes in deft, mordant prose about the lost tradition of oppositional patriotism and its intersection with the post–9/11 forever wars. “The vast majority of the citizenry has divorced attentiveness to America’s wars—or even basic knowledge about them—from their definition of patriotism,” he writes. The author began questioning his embrace of a professional military career during “fifteen awful, life-altering months” in Iraq, when sectarian violence was at its peak: “The horror, the futility, the farce of the war in Iraq was the turning point of my life.” Yet the Army selected Sjursen to teach at West Point; although he loved it, his scholarship was solidifying his anti-war bent. While he “deftly flew under the radar for quite some time,” his writings eventually were brought to the Army’s attention, leading to medical retirement. He clearly discusses his complex relationship to his service, noting that less than 0.5% of Americans serve in the all-volunteer military, a situation that leads to “pageant patriotism.” As he notes, “taking this veritable soldier worship to the level society has in the twenty-first century can be perilous for the republic.” Later in the narrative, the author pivots toward a broader historical focus, noting that combatants contributed to counternarratives of dissent during all American wars (except World War II). The ferocity of the Vietnam War led to the all-volunteer military; now, dissent has disappeared from the ranks while “service has become ‘optional,’ the responsibility of a tiny professional warrior caste.” These pitfalls were disastrously enacted during the years since the Iraq invasion. “Every one of Bush’s and Obama’s military forays has sown further chaos,” writes Sjursen, “startling body counts, and increased rates of terrorism.” Yet with guarded optimism, he concludes by calling for “a revitalized movement defined by patriotic dissent.”

A brisk, approachably radical treatise bolstered by its rueful veteran’s perspective.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59714-514-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Heyday

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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


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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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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