Popular history at its best: a narrative with attitude—thoroughly researched, gracefully written. Possibly a classic. (62...

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1918: WAR AND PEACE

A sweeping, swirling history of the end of WWI and the ensuing struggle for peace—and of the inadvertent and ineluctable construction of the foundation of WWII.

Dallas (The Final Act: The Roads to Waterloo, 1997, etc.), born in London, educated at Berkeley, and now residing in France, is uniquely fit for this daunting task: He knows the languages, has explored the trenches, and has read the relevant published and archival documents. Consistent with his belief that history is local, he focuses on the geography of the north of western Europe, reminding us that “it is one large open plain. Europe’s history is constructed on that fact.” He begins his story as the war is ending. The US—despite its peculiar, disobliging insistence on keeping its forces independent—has finally arrived and, despite some initial failures, has provided the decisive boost in manpower and morale. Dallas crisply describes the military maneuvers that forced the German capitulation—and does not neglect the sanguinary details: “Horrors that would have been incredible to anyone before 1914 were the daily dose for soldiers on the front in 1918.” He deftly shifts venues—London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Washington—letting us know what is happening and sketching portraits of many of the principal players, pointing his finger to events of significance not just in the geopolitical struggle but in the smaller, human ones as well. Thus, we watch the young poet Wilfred Owen fall during the final days; we see Lincoln Steffens interview Lenin. Still, it’s the leaders whose stories grip us. Woodrow Wilson’s myopic insistence on placing his League of Nations at the top of the armistice agenda, Lloyd George’s physical agitation before he rose to speak, Clemenceau’s determination to remain at work after surviving an assassin’s bullet. And—most amazing—the Germans’ refusal to acknowledge that they had even lost the war.

Popular history at its best: a narrative with attitude—thoroughly researched, gracefully written. Possibly a classic. (62 b&w photographs, 4 maps)

Pub Date: May 24, 2001

ISBN: 1-58567-157-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2001

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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