A smart, witty account of America’s failure to communicate.

AN EFFORT TO UNDERSTAND

HEARING ONE ANOTHER (AND OURSELVES) IN A NATION CRACKED IN HALF

A veteran writer delivers a plea for renewed communication in American public and private life in this collection of essays.

As the son of parents who were both “writers by trade” in the advertising industry, Murray was raised with a deep appreciation for the power of words. Today, he heads the Professional Speechwriters Association and serves as editor and publisher of the venerable monthly magazine Vital Speeches of the Day. In this book, he offers readers over 50 essays loosely centered on the thesis that America lacks meaningful avenues of authentic communication. Indeed, despite the nation’s ideological and cultural divides, the author maintains that most Americans actually “share vastly more common experiences and values than we know.” The work’s title comes from the famous remarks delivered by Robert F. Kennedy shortly after news broke of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, as the United States presidential candidate urged Americans to follow the slain leader’s example of making “an effort to understand” one another across racial and political divides. Though Murray, with a trademark candor, notes that in retrospect the speech “sounds so bland….So preachy. So white,” its message is “just as urgent” today. With a firm command of U.S. politics and history and a matching wit, the author’s short essays present keen insights on figures ranging from President Donald Trump to former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Despite his call to “understanding,” Murray is equally emphatic in rejecting a feigned civility that glosses over real differences, noting that some of the nation’s most acclaimed communicators, from H.L. Mencken to Hunter S. Thompson, were renowned for their acerbic critiques of fellow Americans. Though politics is Murray’s bailiwick, it is his later reflections on the importance of communication in one’s personal life that stand out. Essays on the value and intersection of effective communication with marriage, grief, and technology provide a poignancy that transcends politics, though they sometimes make for a thematically disjointed read. Some readers may also balk at the book’s suggestion that the term privileged is a counterproductive “fighting word” that fails to win converts while the essay itself neglects to supply a meaningful alternative.

A smart, witty account of America’s failure to communicate.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63331-048-3

Page Count: 225

Publisher: Disruption Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 10

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more