Engaging, timely, and humane.




An exploration of the role of faith in contemporary China.

Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Johnson (A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Muslim Brotherhood in the West, 2010, etc.) delves into the lives of several families and communities as they live out varying faith traditions in China. Along the way, he provides useful history lessons on how religion in China has come to be what it is today. In touching, descriptive prose, Johnson brings his subjects to life amid a colorful backdrop. The author explains that early communist rule had largely tolerated religion as a necessary component of controlling the vast population, especially in rural areas. Under Mao, however, that tolerance evaporated. The leader’s war on faith was part of a larger war on civilization itself and served only to destroy much of the fabric of society. “When the Cultural Revolution ended,” writes Johnson, “many wondered if they could ever trust anyone again.” In the wake of Mao, the state found religion to be a useful tool in rebuilding society and civil trust. However, this did not mean there was to be any meaningful freedom of religion. Johnson points out that China’s traditional religions of Daoism, Buddhism, and harder-to-define folk religions enjoy the most latitude. Traditions with foreign ties, such as Christianity, are viewed with much more suspicion. Nevertheless, readers may be surprised to read of church groups such as Early Rain, which seem to operate complex organizations with somewhat limited state interference. Throughout this worthwhile study, the author touches on a wide array of issues related to faith in Chinese culture, including the advent of the technology age, urbanization, respect for the dead, the role of family, and the ever looming communist state. Some may argue that Johnson’s work is anecdotal in nature and therefore presents only a sliver of religious life in such a vast nation as China, but the author uses his anecdotal approach to the best possible advantage.

Engaging, timely, and humane.

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-87005-1

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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


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.


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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