Good stories, great interviews, and a potent plea on behalf of vigilant listening.




A Pulitzer Prize winner surveys the American cultural and political landscape and asks if “the freedom to hear” remains intact.

Near the end of his narrative, Shipler (Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in Modern America, 2012, etc.) thanks one of his many interview subjects for her time, and she in turn thanks him for his attention: “The listener is everything in telling a story.” The remark serves as both apt praise for his alert reportorial skills and as a succinct expression of the focus of this odd-angle take on freedom of speech. The author features a wide variety of writers and speakers who inject ideas, information, disinformation, prejudice, and fear into the marketplace, but he also focuses on the marketplace itself, on those auditors who wish to hear no “evil,” no truth, nothing at all discomfiting to their own views. Shipler surveys the limits of what is legally, economically, and culturally permissible, looking, for example, at what happens when parents challenge the inclusion of controversial books in the high school curriculum; when government employees, and the reporters to whom they leak, expose classified information; when a Washington, D.C., theater stages performances about Arabs and Jews that address the historical narratives of both sides. The author explores the fallout from political speech corrupted by outright deceit and the connection between money and political expression. He discovers a pattern in “the cultural limits of bigotry” in which the innuendos of right-wing radio talkers go uncensored while the careless one-time remarks of a blue-collar worker or a small-town official become occasions for firing. Of course, no bigot identifies as one, any more than would-be censors identify as free speech opponents. Rather, they object to certain speech, citing a more important value, say, protecting children or national security or fairness. Shipler describes himself as the closest thing to an “absolutist on the First Amendment as possible without quite being one.”

Good stories, great interviews, and a potent plea on behalf of vigilant listening.

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-95732-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.


The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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