Pungent, embittered, eye-opening observations of a conflict involving lessons still unlearned.



A scathing dispatch from an embedded journalist in Afghanistan.

Demoralization, staggering waste, and corruption: this is the norm in Afghanistan as U.S. troops move into full retrograde (meaning retreat) and other foreign entities like NATO jump ship out of a keen sense of their own futile mission. In this episodic chronicle spanning some months in 2013, when he embedded a third time with U.S. troops there, journalist Wissing (IN Writing: Uncovering the Unexpected Hoosier State, 2016, etc.) describes how the counterinsurgency was almost too painful to talk about among an occupying army that saw its efficacy draining by the minute. From the trillions of U.S. dollars spent in Afghanistan winning the hearts and minds, the author rightly wonders about what has been gained. Journeying from the capital’s “Kabubble,” a sleek, ersatz boomtown, to the many half-finished construction projects (“megalomaniac wet dreams”) begun with the fuel of dollars in the days of post-invasion to the numerous hermetically sealed, security-tight army bases set in the middle of dusty, mountainous desert terrain of the southern provinces neighboring Pakistan, the big question remains: what are the Afghans going to do when the Americans leave? Due to the author’s previous critical writing about America’s “endless war” in Afghanistan, Wissing was barely tolerated by military officials, and he was even kept away from speaking with the fresh Marines, who were still excited about the prospect of reconciling their sense of duty there. However, as the U.S. government decreased the number of troops, the highly paid contractors increased, and no one knew the official count. In his short, punchy, poignant chapters, the author looks at the on-the-ground conditions for the hapless soldiers in terms of food, elimination, sex, PTSD, and the treatment of brain injury, among other topics. He concludes, as have many veterans there working for agricultural development and other aid projects, that in the end, “the Afghan way is the best way.”

Pungent, embittered, eye-opening observations of a conflict involving lessons still unlearned.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-253-02285-1

Page Count: 190

Publisher: Indiana Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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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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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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