An insightful analysis into what went wrong with the founders’ dream.




How the Founding Fathers’ worst fear materialized.

Well-grounded in classical precedents, the founders were worried that their experiment in republican self-government could produce a demagogue, a charismatic leader who would gain and hold on to power by manipulating the public rather than by advancing the public good. Posner, a professor of law at the University of Chicago, contends two presidents have embodied that fear: Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump. However, this book is not all about Trump; it is an almost novellike stroll through American history beginning with the founders’ fear and ending with one chapter on Trump. Along the way, Posner charts the careers of such American demagogues as Huey Long, George Wallace, and Joe McCarthy and shows the similarities they share with Trump. The author argues that two things are necessary for a demagogue to rise: a propitious political condition and the right person. In Trump’s case, writes Posner, the condition was that rank-and-file Republicans were blaming “elites” for such failures as the Iraq War and stagnating wages, and they wanted something new. The necessary person not only had to be an outsider—because no one inside the party was showing any hint of anything new—but also someone with significant public recognition, great wealth, or, preferably, both. And he had to be shameless. What better person than Trump? Posner checks off the characteristics of a demagogue and details how deeply each one applies to Trump. For example, they attack anyone who opposes or criticizes them; they have contempt for the truth; they despise institutions, public and private; they blame and attack elite power. As the author writes, his goal was “to persuade the reader that in electing Donald Trump to the presidency, we Americans really did choose a demagogue.” He has succeeded.

An insightful analysis into what went wrong with the founders’ dream.

Pub Date: June 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-30303-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: All Points/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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