A compelling tale of the haves of the past and the “inverted Constitution” they created.



Remember President Jay Gould? Of course not—the billionaire industrialist never occupied the White House. But, writes Atlantic Monthly editor Beatty (Colossus, 2001, etc.), he ruled the country all the same.

“This book tells the saddest story: How, having redeemed democracy in the Civil War, America betrayed it in the Gilded Age.” So Beatty writes as an opening salvo in what becomes all-out war on the robber barons, arrivistes and idle rich of the late-19th century. Their fortune was at the expense of ordinary workers, courtesy of elected officialdom’s eagerness to give the rich the keys to the kingdom. Thus, the railroad conglomerates, having once imposed their will by rationalizing America’s 80-odd local time zones to serve their industrial needs, now found that the government was throwing huge sections of the public domain their way. In some instances, the vain hope was that the railroads would actually use that land to bring civilization to the lonelier corners of the country; in others, Beatty suggests, it was mere bribery. Whatever the case, the bestowal of billions of dollars’ worth of the public domain on a handful of owners was a passing scandal in its own time, while the government’s failure to enact land reform during Reconstruction to compensate former slaves was scarcely noticed at all. While the Democrats of the era concentrated on keeping power in the hands of white men, the Republicans stacked the Senate by admitting into the Union states that did not meet the constitutional criteria for statehood, allowed the wealthy to dictate the terms of their own laws and otherwise constructed “a chummy heaven of businessmen and politicians.” As Beatty’s damning story continues, the parallels between then and now mount—save, as he notes, the undemocratic inequalities of the Gilded Age were nothing compared to those of today.

A compelling tale of the haves of the past and the “inverted Constitution” they created.

Pub Date: April 16, 2007

ISBN: 1-4000-4028-0

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2007

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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