A cogent and dispiriting contribution to the growing number of analyses of the ailing American democracy.

LET THEM EAT TWEETS

HOW THE RIGHT RULES IN AN AGE OF EXTREME INEQUALITY

How the Republicans’ embrace of economic elites threatens democracy.

Political scientists Hacker (Yale) and Pierson (Univ. of California, Berkeley) synthesize many scholarly studies and journalists’ reports to mount a compelling, though not groundbreaking, argument that what they call “plutocratic populism”—reactionary economic priorities and right-wing cultural and racial appeals—dominates the Republican Party, undermining democracy. Although Donald Trump is an exemplar of this stance, the authors maintain that Republicans bowed to the ultrawealthy long before the 2016 election. They cite, for example, the 2001 tax cuts, which benefited the rich far more than the middle class and “were sharply at odds with what the majority of voters thought the nation’s budget priorities should be.” Republicans blatantly covet backing from wealthy supporters, with Mike Pence selected as vice president partly to satisfy evangelicals, partly because of his close ties to big donors, notably the Koch brothers. Over several generations, the party’s loyalty to the wealthy caused a shift to cultural issues and outrage in order to attract voters. “The early specialists in outrage-stoking,” the authors assert, “were the Christian right and the NRA,” which both were fueled by “racial backlash.” Increasingly, Republicans have fostered a campaign of “resentment, racialization and rigging” in their pursuit of white voters. In the 2018 midterm elections, however, the party’s losses caused it to shift to “a third option”: to “make voters’ voices less relevant” by turning election rules and redistricting “into finely honed partisan weapons.” Democracy itself is a problem for Republicans “because it threatens the property and power of powerful minorities.” The interests of those wealthy minorities, the authors warn, “diverge from those of their fellow citizens,” making them “more apprehensive about democracy.” The authors are cautiously optimistic that shifting demographics may weaken Republicans’ power, but only Trump’s “decisive electoral defeat” will possibly “motivate a fundamental rethinking of the party’s priorities.”

A cogent and dispiriting contribution to the growing number of analyses of the ailing American democracy.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63149-684-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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