An ingenious lesson in geopolitics.



A tour de force world history focused on water and how we use it.

Climate scientist Boccaletti, chief strategy office of the Nature Conservancy, begins with an emphatic denial that “water is an inert backdrop on the stage of human events.” To prove his thesis, he delivers an expert water-centered history of human progress from the time we became sedentary 10,000 years ago. “The story of water,” writes the author, “is not technological, but political.” Agriculture produces far more food than hunting and gathering but requires massive amounts of water. Depending on rain is unreliable, so centuries ago, farmers began to harness the power of wells, local rivers, canals, and irrigation projects, which preoccupied early governments as much as warfare. Ambitious cultures paid attention to transportation by water, which is 10 times more efficient than by land. In Boccaletti’s view, an essential feature of the rise of the nation-state in the 17th century was increased security of property, which produced an explosion of investment in water infrastructure. By the end of the 19th century, he writes, the “great American rivers…would become the basis for the rise of the American republic as the dominant economy of the twentieth,” the “hydraulic century.” Hydropower, not hydrocarbons, powered the electrification of America. Opening with the spectacular Panama Canal in 1904, the U.S. spent much of the 20th-century attempting to repeat the success of the Tennessee Valley Authority and Hoover Dam around the world, with spotty success. These efforts peaked during the 1970s, after which water-led development seemed to fall out of fashion—until, out of the blue, China appeared on the scene, built the Three Gorges Dam (“the largest single piece of infrastructure in the world”), and took the lead in spreading its technology around the world. “It may still be that if the twentieth was the American Century,” writes Boccaletti in this astute global study, “the twenty-first will be the Chinese one.”

An ingenious lesson in geopolitics.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4823-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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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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