A well-written, exhaustively researched history of American leaders’ efforts to manage their nuclear arsenal.

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THE BOMB

PRESIDENTS, GENERALS, AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF NUCLEAR WAR

A comprehensive review of American nuclear policy from the Truman administration to the present.

Slate national-security columnist Kaplan (Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War, 2016, etc.) draws on original documents, many only recently declassified, to build a detailed, incisive picture of how U.S. presidents have thought about their most troubling responsibility: pushing “the button” that could end civilization. Equally important players are the top brass in the military who desire more and bigger bombs and the vehicles to deliver them. One theme becomes clear: For the most part, presidents are uncomfortable with nuclear warfare while the military is eager to amass the weapons. Regardless, as soon as a rival power has gained access to nuclear weapons, every administration has had to consider the circumstances under which they might need to be employed. For most of the early history of the bomb, the key strategic decisions were orchestrated by Air Force Gen. Curtis Lemay, whose Strategic Air Command controlled most of the bombers and missiles. But in almost every administration, there were those who dared to oppose him, usually by pointing to the Soviet arsenal and exaggerating the threat it posed. Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense under John F. Kennedy, brought in his “Whiz Kids,” who tried—with limited success—to rein in the Pentagon budget. Richard Nixon, on the other hand, tried to bluff the North Vietnamese into making concessions on the theory that if they thought he was crazy enough to use the weapons, they might back down. Jimmy Carter, firmly convinced of the immorality of nuclear war, also tried—with even less success. Surprisingly, it was Ronald Reagan who took advantage of the Soviet Union’s internal troubles to achieve the first big cut in nuclear weapons. Further gains were made by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, although the Pentagon and congressional hawks kept both from paring back the arsenal. In the last chapter, the Pulitzer-winning journalist covers Donald Trump’s posturing about the issue.

A well-written, exhaustively researched history of American leaders’ efforts to manage their nuclear arsenal.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-0729-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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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