A thought-provoking study in civics, history, and the decline and fall of self-government.

LAST BEST HOPE

AMERICA IN CRISIS AND RENEWAL

Can we save ourselves from ourselves in America’s “cold civil war”?

As New Yorker contributor and National Book Award winner Packer notes in this sharp and concise analysis, there’s one good thing to say about the current pandemic: With its arrival, “it became impossible to pass through the world in the normal bovine manner.” Of course, it also revealed massive cracks in the system and amplified a rift in which people either scream at each other or maintain a polite silence, an avoidance that “solves nothing” and indeed, by Packer’s account, is “part of the collapse.” Something is badly amiss in what used to be thought of as the last best hope in the world. Instead, we are overrun with instability, contending tribes, and useless politicians. Into this chaos stepped Donald Trump, who failed to become the dictator he so obviously wished to be only by virtue of “his own ineptitude, along with our creaky institutions and the remaining democratic faith of the American people.” Even so, Packer charges, we’re all responsible for Trump, in part because there are yawning gulfs among numerous visions of America. There’s the “Free America” of the libertarians, so susceptible to demagoguery; the “Smart America” of the progressives, which leaves blue-collar workers in the dust; the “Real America,” a bastion of racism, ignorance, and resentment; and the “Just America,” which “forces us to see the straight line that runs from slavery and segregation to the second-class life so many Black Americans live today.” In all of these, there are the ingredients of a fifth vision: “Equal America,” which involves “extending the New Deal to Americans in more areas of their lives,” from affordable and universal health care to a living minimum wage and beyond. It’s a project that “asks us to put more faith in ourselves and one another than we can bear,” but it surely beats where we are now.

A thought-provoking study in civics, history, and the decline and fall of self-government.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60366-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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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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