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IT'S EVEN WORSE THAN YOU THINK

WHAT THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION IS DOING TO AMERICA

Thoroughly depressing—but urgent, necessary reading, at least for those who aren’t true believers in the Trumpite cause.

If there’s such a genre as anti-hagiography, Johnston (The Making of Donald Trump, 2016, etc.) adds materially to it with this new polemic against the sitting president.

If the Trump administration can boast of an accomplishment to date, writes the author, it is that “thanks to Trump the mentally ill now have virtually the same gun rights as the sane.” One might think this a questionable contribution to the commonwealth, but, Johnston argues with a fine and steely sense of indignation, that is precisely the point. Where other presidents have had agendas in the national interest and reformist tendencies toward the same end, “the Trump presidency is about Trump. Period. Full stop.” That includes various kleptocratic schemes, such as the evasion of the anti-emoluments clause mostly by simply ignoring it and being abetted by a Republican Congress all too willing to overlook constitutional niceties. Thus it is, Johnston chronicles, that the president continues to cash in on the Trump Hotel just down the street from the White House, with staffers hanging out in the lobby to record who comes and goes, to be rewarded accordingly. It also includes turning a blind eye to the dismantling of the administrative state by “termites” who operate behind closed doors, carefully shielded from public view as they destroy agencies and records. Johnston is very good at connecting odd dots: why, for instance, would Trump want to annihilate an agency devoted to increasing American trade exports abroad? Because part of the deal is to push renewable energy, and Trump “has attacked renewable energy again and again.” Never mind collusion with Russia, election-fixing, vote suppression, and all the rest. The author writes without an ounce of self-congratulation that he’s been warning about the dangers of Trump for years, and it’s all coming true—including, he adds, his prediction that “as president, Trump’s behavior would become increasingly erratic. And it has.”

Thoroughly depressing—but urgent, necessary reading, at least for those who aren’t true believers in the Trumpite cause.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7416-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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