Long, leisurely, and vastly entertaining.

A WRETCHED AND PRECARIOUS SITUATION

IN SEARCH OF THE LAST ARCTIC FRONTIER

The story of a 1913 Arctic expedition to investigate what the New York Tribune called “the last considerable mass of unknown land on our planet.”

Welky (History/Univ. of Central Arkansas; Marching Across the Color Line: A. Philip Randolph and Civil Rights in the World War II Era, 2013, etc.) recounts the effort by two eager young acolytes of Cmdr. Robert E. Peary to reveal the secrets of Crocker Land, a large, undiscovered landmass the famed explorer reported seeing on his failed 1906 attempt to reach the North Pole. Making magnificent use of documents and re-creating the yearslong Arctic sojourn with the drama and immediacy of a tension-filled adventure novel, the author conjures a romantic quest emblematic of the rugged manliness of the time. In the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt and with Peary’s blessing and the sponsorship of the American Museum of Natural History, the young explorers—Bowdoin graduate Donald MacMillan and Yalie George Borup—set out on a steamer with all the fanfare due an ambitious scientific exploration. Their journey, pitting a seven-man crew against the perils of Arctic life, from blizzards and ice floes to winter darkness and loneliness, involved “triumph, frustration, joy, infighting, betrayal, and murder” in “one of the harshest environments on the planet.” Working with such material and telling his story in vivid scenes rendered in wonderfully sharp declarative sentences, Welky offers a vibrant portrait of the young adventurers, their loyal Inuit helpers, and the ever present dangers of a forbidding place where, as leader MacMillan said, “the evil spirit of the Arctic is always watching.” Examining every aspect of the mission and its historical context, the author captures the can-do, all-American-boy spirit of the age, the constant fears of unforeseen disasters on the ice, and the fossil- and specimen-collecting mania that drove so much exploration. He also describes the expedition’s surprising discovery upon approaching Crocker Land in a way that enhances the fascination of his story.

Long, leisurely, and vastly entertaining.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-25441-9

Page Count: 492

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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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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