A tighter and better-organized argument would have helped, but the authors provide plenty of smart if debatable observations...

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CLASH!

8 CULTURAL CONFLICTS THAT MAKE US WHO WE ARE

A grab-bag, pop-psych look at cultural determinism and its discontents.

People are different. Cultures are different. But within those truisms lies a potentially discomfiting question that Markus (Behavioral Sciences/Stanford Univ.) and science writer and cultural psychologist Conner ask at the beginning: “What kind of person will not just survive but thrive in the twenty-first century?” That depends, of course, on place, custom, economy, education and a host of other factors, not least among them culture. Culture—and anthropologists have counted at least 200 extended definitions of that elusive term—is the shell surrounding us human eggs, and, as the authors note, it is what allows so many whites to wear blinders that assure them that we live in a post-racial society while people of color know the truth to be very different. Culture, they assert rightly, has as much to do with who people are “as do the genes, neurons, and brain regions within their bodies.” And as to the clash of the title? The authors do not always have their eyes on this prize, but they address that large question, observing—and it’s always dangerous to generalize—that people raised under the banner of Socrates prize individualism, whereas people raised under that of Confucius tend to value the polity more than the individual members of it. The authors chew on some slippery but intriguing tidbits: Why are Californians thin and athletic, Midwesterners not so much? (Hint: It has to do with the stability of relationships.) The authors steer into murkier territory when art pretends to be science, as when they write up a score card for Barack Obama (“gets one point in the ‘Independent’ column for ‘Gender’ ”).

A tighter and better-organized argument would have helped, but the authors provide plenty of smart if debatable observations about who we are.

Pub Date: May 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59463-098-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Hudson Street/Penguin

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

FRONT ROW AT THE TRUMP SHOW

The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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