A provocative scientific thesis, but one that’s unfortunately coupled with a less-compelling litany of political commitments.

COOPERATING FOR ENHANCED SURVIVAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

Retired engineer Willis (Cooperating for Survival in the Positive-Sum Universe, 1997) proposes a new cosmological model and explores its moral, political, and economic implications. 

According to the author, the world is spiraling into precipitous decline, threatened by economic collapse and war. Public debate, he says, tends to splinter along a familiar fault line, with those who prioritize the individual on one side, and those who elevate the collective on the other. Here, Willis proposes nothing less than a new scientific account of the universe, which he says can finally dissolve ideological conflict. The generally accepted cosmology, which considers quantum reality to be the most fundamental, is random and probabilistic, encourages relativistic epistemologies, and considers the Darwinian theory of evolution to be essentially complete. However, Willis proposes a model with a physical, if unobserved, reality at the sub-quantum level, which is causal and deterministic, and which implies ongoing evolution toward higher levels of consciousness and cooperation. The author calls this the “Theory of Contropy,” asserting that lower life forms produce new, more complex life forms, and more opportunities for cooperative interaction. Willis then explains the theory’s practical implications: Humanity isn’t fated to a “thermal death,” he says, because mutually beneficial cooperation can save us all from disaster. However, the individual is the most elemental part of Willis’ cosmology, which he says justifies a rational preference for economic and political systems that aggrandize individual liberty, such as free-market capitalism and democracy. Overall, the author’s proposal is unusually creative, and throughout this book, his command of the relevant scientific material is remarkable. He also ably catalogs the genuine limitations of the dominant cosmological models. However, his prose is also prohibitively dense, and as a result, his scientific views are unlikely to influence a wide audience. Also, the theoretical ligature between his physics and politics is not nearly as strong as he claims; it’s implausible, for instance, that one can justify a value-added tax on cosmological grounds.

A provocative scientific thesis, but one that’s unfortunately coupled with a less-compelling litany of political commitments.

Pub Date: Aug. 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4808-2559-8

Page Count: 370

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2018

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

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.

FRONT ROW AT THE TRUMP SHOW

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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