POLAND

The dullest, if timeliest, history lesson yet from Michener Junior College—following three Polish clans (noble, petty-noble, peasant) from 1204 A.D. to the present, but with little of the uplifting, dynastic sweep of this mechanical Michener-format at his best. The saga begins with a talky 1981 confrontation, in the village of Bukowo on the Vistula, between farm-union leader Janko Buk and Communist agriculture minister Szymon Bukowski. . . who turn out to be related. Then it's back, back, to the 13th century—when Buk's ancestors are downtrodden peasants, Bukowski's are the local feudal lords, and above them are the fully noble Counts Lubonski. In the 1200s these Poles are ravaged by Tatar raids, with the Polish "abhorrence of central power" one cause of the region's vulnerability. A century-and-a-half later, the current count sends a Bukowski/Buk duo to spy on the Teutonic Knights who threaten po. land from the west (ostensibly because the Poles are still "pagans"); in the 1410 Battle of Grunwald, the Poles join the Tatars and others—in serviceable battle scenes—to trounce the Germans. In the 1600s the land is devastated again, by Swedes ("they went totally berserk") and slaughtering Transylvanians; yet by 1683, despite the "insane" governing system of the Polish barons, the country has pulled itself together—thanks in part to charismatic King Jan Sobieski, who leads triumphant Polish forces (including a Buk and a Bukowski, of course) against Vienna-invading Turks. Next, however, come the disastrous 1790s: Poland's reformers fail to dislodge the barons ("Symbolically, Feliks and Jan, master and serf, walked together up the gentle hill" to join freedom-fighter Kosciuszko); Poland's neighbors exploit its internal weakness, annexing and obliterating the nation. Then, jump to 1895 Vienna—with Count Andrzej Lubonski row Austria's minister of Minorities and Wiktor Bukowski (with servant Buk) a minor official: Bukowski's Polish consciousness is raised by a beauteous pianist's Chopin, he marries a cultured American and returns to Bukowo. . . while Buk at last gets his own swatch of land (in return for marrying Bukowski's pregnant mistress). So, when Poland comes back into existence in 1918, Count L. labors at achieving multi-ethnic nationalism, Mrs. Bukowski entertains Paderewski, Bukowski helps fight the Communists—all in vain: the Nazis will invade, with underground/concentration-camp bravery ahead for the clans. (One Bukowski does "slither" off to Paris with his art collection.) And the finale is 1981 again. . . as Bukowski and Buk finally come together in anti-Communist solidarity. Simplistic yet inconsistent, Michener's trio-of-families approach offers a spotty, confusing overview of complex history; while emphasizing lapses in Polish leadership, he idealizes and glosses over elsewhere—with, for example, a near-total whitewash of Polish anti-Semitism. And, despite a few courtships and weddings, the parade of characters here is flat, utterly humorless, un-involving. Look elsewhere, then, either for strong historical fiction or a coherent introduction to Polish history. But look to the bestseller lists nonetheless: the facts are piled high, the title is in the headlines, the byline is inescapable.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 1983

ISBN: 0449205878

Page Count: 644

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1983

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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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