A deeply researched, terrifically entertaining exploration of the London Zoo “through the eyes of some of the people who...

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THE ZOO

THE WILD AND WONDERFUL TALE OF THE FOUNDING OF THE LONDON ZOO: 1824-1852

A whimsical work revisiting the English gentlemen of the early- to mid-19th century who envisioned the first Zoological Society of London.

London-based TV producer and author Charman (The Great War: A Nation’s Story, 2014, etc.) delves into an eclectic cast of characters who created London’s first ZSL in 1826. Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, returning home from a grueling stint in Singapore with the East India Company, resolved to create for London its own Jardin des Plantes, like the one he and his wife had admired in Paris. It would be, he decided, “a place of science, of investigation, of knowledge.” A member of the Royal Society, Raffles galvanized the new ZSL and obtained the land for such a venture in The Regent’s Park, designed by John Nash and located in the north of London. Upon Raffles’ death in 1826, the young architect Decimus Burton took over the challenging project, which included the designing of buildings over five acres where “humans could comfortably, elegantly, enjoyably observe creatures.” Indeed, writes Charman, Burton “was building for mankind, rather than for beasts,” and it was a huge hit, open to the public for one shilling per head in 1828. It soon expanded through a tunnel taking visitors elegantly from one side of the road to the other (more illustrations or a map would have been welcome). In her charming, engaging narrative, the author deftly assumes the points of view of her characters, in the spirit of a Victorian novelist. These included the first medical attendant, Charles Spooner, who was eventually dismissed because of the high mortality rate of the exotic animals (the wet, cold English winters were a detriment to many of them), and Charles Darwin, a corresponding member of the ZSL when he returned from his Beagle exploration in 1836, keen to observe the animals himself.

A deeply researched, terrifically entertaining exploration of the London Zoo “through the eyes of some of the people who made it happen.”

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-68177-356-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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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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