A potent book that gives faces and voices to trends that are too often reduced to cold statistics and academic analyses.




A humanized illumination of the challenges facing developing countries as climate change accelerates the race to the bottom.

There are no easy answers for the two extended families who are the subject of Haynes’ (English/Univ. of Wisconsin, Oshkosh) deeply intensive reporting, but, as the title suggests, there is no hopeless defeatism either. They may live from flood to drought, from earthquake to earthquake, and from slum to overcrowded evacuation center, but family relationships, personal responsibility, and hope that education brings their children a better future keep them afloat. The author began his personal journey to this story as a high school student writing a newspaper story criticizing American policy in Central America. His subsequent experience is as an essayist and poet who teaches writing rather than as a scientist or political scientist, though he refers to those disciplines in extending his own theses. Haynes traces the lives of two families who have left the Nicaraguan countryside to fend for themselves in urban, impoverished Managua, a city that is perennially under the threat of destruction from earthquakes and flooding, where the shantytown called The Widows sits on Lake Managua, which one scientist calls “the world’s biggest toilet.” With basic subsistence such a challenge, the narrative, often in the present tense, depicts marriages that collapse under pressure, children who suffer and die, epidemics of dengue fever and alcoholism alike. But the author also shows an indomitable human spirit and resilience in the face of long odds and no safety net. He tells the story of these people in their singularity but also what it augurs for a developing world that has seen “a meteoric mass migration that made Latin America the most urbanized region in the world, as well as the most unequal,” amid U.N. predictions “that, by 2050, three billion people might live in shantytowns and favelas—almost half of the world’s projected urban population.”

A potent book that gives faces and voices to trends that are too often reduced to cold statistics and academic analyses.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4773-1312-1

Page Count: 262

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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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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