A carefully developed argument that urges us to discuss character traits without reference to gender.

X + Y


Can mathematics break down barriers to entry—in markets, in society—imposed by gender? Mathematician and math popularizer Cheng takes a positive view.

“Math isn’t just about getting the right answers; it’s about dreaming up different worlds in which different things can be true.” The author writes inductively of her experiences as a woman in a field dominated by men to arrive at an alternate world in which gender is not a determinant in who fails, who succeeds, who has access, and who does not. A specialist in category theory—a branch of mathematics in which theories and not theorems govern—Cheng proposes that many arguments about supposed gender absolutes can be reframed. For example, she breaks down the logical implications in the syllogism that says that men are better at math than women, because they are better at systematizing—ergo, “being a man implies being better at math.” But what if the frame were moved to encourage decomposition of the terms? “Men have been observed to be statistically more likely to be stronger at systemizing than empathizing, for some very specific definitions of these words,” a strength that often resolves in ways such that “we might expect more men than women to become mathematicians.” The onus is not on numeracy but instead on structures that push people into different endeavors. In a spry—and not number-heavy—text, Cheng suggests that inherent ability is not as important as how math is generally taught: the ponderous lecturer at the front of the class, the mostly bewildered students trying to follow along. She proposes a “congressive,” group-oriented solution to problem-solving to replace the “ingressive” model, which presupposes that learning is a sort of Darwinian matter of survival of the fittest. Most truisms about gender difference, she notes, are “because of bias, not biology,” and the reframing she suggests makes this bias clear.

A carefully developed argument that urges us to discuss character traits without reference to gender.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5416-4650-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.


A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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A deceptively slender but rich argument in favor of conserving liberal ideals—and liberal government.


The renowned political scientist and philosopher considers classical liberalism and the broad range of enemies arrayed against it.

“By ‘liberalism,’ ” writes Fukuyama, “I refer to the doctrine…that argued for the limitation of the powers of governments through law and ultimately constitutions, creating institutions protecting the rights of individuals living under their jurisdiction.” Born of events such as the English civil war and the Enlightenment, this liberalism also encouraged diversity of thought, religion, and ethnicity, placing it squarely in the crosshairs of today’s authoritarian nationalists, not least Donald Trump. Fukuyama has often been identified with conservative causes, but his thinking here is democratic to the core, and he has no use for such pathetic lies as Trump’s insistence that the 2020 election was stolen. That said, the author notes that liberalism has many enemies on both the left and the right for numerous real yet correctable failings. The neoliberalism that has emerged over the past couple of generations has accelerated inequality, and numerous institutions have been eroded while others, such as the Electoral College, have been revealed to be anti-democratic. Both left and right, the author argues, have trouble accepting that governing over diversity, the hallmark of liberalism, means governing over many ethnic and national groups, strata of income, and competing interests. He adds, however, “Left-of-center voters…remain much more diverse” in political outlook. Essential to a liberal society, Fukuyama insists, is the right to vote: “Voting rights are fundamental rights that need to be defended by the power of the national government.” While he insists that individual rights take precedence over group rights, he also observes that the social contract demands citizen participation. To the conservative charge that the social contract is one thing but the “common moral horizon” another, he answers that yes, liberalism does not insist on a single morality—which “is indeed a feature and not a bug.”

A deceptively slender but rich argument in favor of conserving liberal ideals—and liberal government.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-374-60671-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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