A specific, timely, well-rendered exegesis of the unfolding global threat.

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ISIS

A HISTORY

A thorough survey of the genesis of the Islamic State, from al-Qaida wannabe to lethal caliphate.

The Islamic State emerged strong from the shattered democratic ideals of the Arab Spring and, before that, the devastating sectarian violence that resulted from the American invasion of Iraq. In this rigorous synthesis of what is actually known about the jihadi terror group, Middle East scholar Gerges (International Relations/London School of Economics and Political Science; Obama and the Middle East: The End of America's Moment?, 2012, etc.) looks at its power center and leaders and the troubling incursions by the group into Iraq, Syria, and Kurdish territories since the summer of 2014. He also examines its enormous wealth from oil and the black market and recruiting attraction for young, disaffected rural, religious men. In contrast to al-Qaida, which was nearly destroyed by the death of Osama bin Laden and swore vengeance on the “far enemy” (the U.S., Israel, and the Western powers), the Islamic State has focused its fury on the “near enemy,” the apostate Shias. Gerges sees this as an ongoing genocide in contrast to the relatively few deaths of Western journalists and others. The group’s leadership, especially Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has thus co-opted the global jihadi movement, moving into the chaotic vacuum left by the American invasion of Iraq, appropriating the Baathist tools of repression, and offering “aggrieved Sunnis a potent pan-Sunni (Islamist) identity.” Though the Islamic State perversely took credit for the unleashing of popular discontent during the Arab Spring, Gerges points to the power grab resulting from the “grand collusion” between Arab autocrats and their patrons to maintain the status quo. The author looks carefully at the rise of leaders such as al-Baghdadi, but he concludes that the ideological-driven terror organization will eventually self-destruct because it cannot supply the civil state and institutions of freedom and social justice that the Arab people desperately want and need.

A specific, timely, well-rendered exegesis of the unfolding global threat.

Pub Date: May 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-691-17000-8

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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