A well-documented, full-scale overview of some key makers of modern history.

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WORLDMAKING

THE ART AND SCIENCE OF AMERICAN DIPLOMACY

A survey of American diplomacy since the 1890s as reflected in the careers of the men who molded it.

Milne (Modern History/Univ. of East Anglia; America's Rasputin: Walt Rostow and the Vietnam War, 2008) chooses nine significant figures whose approaches to diplomacy—either as an art, with inexact methods, or as a science, with a logical approach built from first principles—define his thesis. The tale begins at a point when the country largely avoided foreign entanglements. Alfred Thayer Mahan, in a hugely influential book on the importance of sea power, argued that the U.S. must ready to take an international role to protect its interests. A generation later, Woodrow Wilson took the position that America could only be safe in a world at peace. America’s entry into World War I and the subsequent attempt to create the League of Nations were the results. Beginning in the 1920s, and increasingly as the Depression took its toll, Charles Beard made the case for putting domestic issues above all else. But with the rise of Hitler and Stalin, Walter Lippmann and George Kennan pushed for a more active international role, leading to the Cold War, in which Paul Nitze and Henry Kissinger took very different roles. As the Soviet Union faded, Paul Wolfowitz found new threats in the Middle East, threats that have dominated much of Barack Obama’s presidency. The overall arc of the book is fascinating, showing how the play of ideas and politics has worked out over more than a century, with some of the most critical episodes in modern history as main episodes in the plot. Milne doesn’t paint his protagonists in black-or-white terms; he both praises Kissinger for his role in the rapprochement with China and criticizes him for advocating for keeping the U.S. in Vietnam after it was clear there was nothing to gain there. On the whole, however, the author appears to side with the “artists” over their more dogmatic opposites.

A well-documented, full-scale overview of some key makers of modern history.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-29256-0

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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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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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