Beason attains a kind of high-geekish exaltation that will appeal to readers schooled in Tom Clancy.

THE E-BOMB

HOW AMERICA’S NEW DIRECTED ENERGY WEAPONS WILL CHANGE THE WAY FUTURE WARS WILL BE FOUGHT

Directed energy is the wave (and not just the microwave) of the future, the source of weapons that will prove to be revolutionary.

Imagine, writes Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher Beason, that an angry mob has surrounded the American embassy in New Delhi—for though our friends today, the Indians can turn on us at any minute—and that some of them are carrying weapons. Turn on a DEW, a directed energy weapon, and zap and poof, anyone with those weapons in hand will feel “intense, excruciating pain” as the metal is heated as if by some divine smelter. This exercise in “active denial,” Beason observes, is not mere science fiction; scientists are working on the necessary hardware every waking moment. Though the goodies will come too late to do the current generation of warriors in Afghanistan and Iraq any good, in the future antiballistic lasers will be deployed high above bad-guy nations such as Iran, poised to destroy terrorist bases and all the weapons of mass destruction they contain. Beason describes a number of ongoing research projects testing the efficacy (and even plausibility) of directed-energy applications. It’s not stimulating reading: “The Jefferson FEL uses cryogenics for superconducting magnets. . . . This technology is not as mature as the COIL laser . . . and other approaches have been proposed for building a weapons-class FEL, such as using an extremely high-gain amplifier instead of an oscillator.” Ah, yes, of course.

Beason attains a kind of high-geekish exaltation that will appeal to readers schooled in Tom Clancy.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-306-81402-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

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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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Not flawless, but one of the best recent analyses of the contemporary woes of American economics and politics.

WHO STOLE THE AMERICAN DREAM?

Remarkably comprehensive and coherent analysis of and prescriptions for America’s contemporary economic malaise by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Smith (Rethinking America, 1995, etc.).

“Over the past three decades,” writes the author, “we have become Two Americas.” We have arrived at a new Gilded Age, where “gross inequality of income and wealth” have become endemic. Such inequality is not simply the result of “impersonal and irresistible market forces,” but of quite deliberate corporate strategies and the public policies that enabled them. Smith sets out on a mission to trace the history of these strategies and policies, which transformed America from a roughly fair society to its current status as a plutocracy. He leaves few stones unturned. CEO culture has moved since the 1970s from a concern for the general well-being of society, including employees, to the single-minded pursuit of personal enrichment and short-term increases in stock prices. During much of the ’70s, CEO pay was roughly 40 times a worker’s pay; today that number is 367. Whether it be through outsourcing and factory closings, corporate reneging on once-promised contributions to employee health and retirement funds, the deregulation of Wall Street and the financial markets, a tax code which favors overwhelmingly the interests of corporate heads and the superrich—all of which Smith examines in fascinating detail—the American middle class has been left floundering. For its part, government has simply become an enabler and partner of the rich, as the rich have turned wealth into political influence and rigid conservative opposition has created the politics of gridlock. What, then, is to be done? Here, Smith’s brilliant analyses turn tepid, as he advocates for “a peaceful political revolution at the grassroots” to realign the priorities of government and the economy but offers only the vaguest of clues as to how this might occur.

Not flawless, but one of the best recent analyses of the contemporary woes of American economics and politics.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6966-8

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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