Penetrating analyses of the nation’s ills.



Scholars, journalists, and political and community leaders diagnose urgent challenges to democracy.

In November 2017, a three-day conference at Oberlin College on “The State of American Democracy” inspired subsequent conversations among participants about how to restore “the promise of democracy” after the stunning election of 2016. Orr (Emeritus, Environmental Studies and Politics/Oberlin Coll.; Dangerous Years: Climate Change and the Long Emergency, 2016, etc.), investigative reporter Gumbel, journalist Kitwana, and Becker, Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project, have gathered cogent, informative essays intended, as Orr writes, “to clarify the historic and institutional origins of the election of 2016 and the growing risk that we are coming unmoored from our history and our highest values.” This risk, the contributors agree, has intensified under the Trump administration, characterized by “mendacity, incompetence, venality, malice” and staffed by “the worst, least qualified, and most unscrupulous” appointees. Jeremi Suri, a professor of global affairs, asserts that Trump, in exploiting citizens’ alienation from government, forces Americans “to rethink the contours of democratic leadership” and portends the viability of “a smaller and humbler presidency, one focused on fewer promises and tethered more closely to ethical limitations.” Environmental activist Judy Braus repeats a call for greater civics and history education in schools to “equip students to become full-fledged citizens, able to make informed, intelligent choices that support the public good.” Jessica Tuchman Mathews, former president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, urges a continuing commitment to treaty-based alliances. Several contributors, including Bill McKibben, focus on climate change as a threat to democracy while sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson joins others in reflecting on democracy and race. Among other topics considered in this wide-ranging collection are the internet, income inequality, the changing voter demographic, the impact of nonaligned voters, and the insidious role of wealthy donors and lobbyists in influencing politicians. The U.S., Becker writes, “is effectively ruled by an unelected plutocratic oligarchy” of “economic elites.” Other contributors include Yascha Mounk, Maria Hinojosa, and Robert Kuttner.

Penetrating analyses of the nation’s ills.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-62097-513-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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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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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