An often astute and scholarly work that’s hampered by its reductionism.


A spirited reconsideration of the causes of the American Revolution that takes aim at the views of acclaimed historian Bernard Bailyn. 

Author and lecturer Thompson (The Dubious Achievement of the First Continental Congress, 2011, etc.) offers a reinterpretation of the Revolutionary War era that focuses on dynamic plays for power rather than a more romantic vision of it as a leap forward for social justice and a commitment to democratic ideology. In fact, he avers, the war wasn’t democratically chosen at all but was the result of the relentless agitation on the part of “a radical fringe of malcontents.” In 1760s England, he says, a “new underclass” appeared as a result of the birth of industrial society, creating an opportunity for a “political pest” named John Wilkes. His “rallying cry” for liberty, Thompson says, was picked up in the Colonies by Samuel Adams, the older cousin of John Adams, who used a message of “natural rights” to spark a political revolution that was performed in two acts: First, it was argued that King George III had violated the colonists’ civil rights via taxation without representation, and secondly, that he had infringed upon their natural rights. However, the author points out that even as late as 1775—approximately a decade into Adams’ indefatigable campaign—the vast majority of colonists still opposed a war for the sake of secession. In lucid prose, which draws on painstakingly meticulous research, Thompson goes on to show the ways in which Adams and Thomas Jefferson heavily relied upon the natural rights philosophy of the British philosopher John Locke, although he contends that their interpretations fashioned Locke into a far more radical thinker than he actually was.  Thompson’s argument is a concise one as laid out in this book, and it’s remarkable how much historical territory he covers in a relatively short monograph. He also provides readers with incisive introductions to Adams and Wilkes, two extraordinarily important figures in early American history who are sometimes denied their rightful stature. Although the author’s position is not entirely original, he presents a clear encapsulation of an alternative reading of the nation’s genesis. However, he often undermines his argument by employing gratuitously inflammatory rhetoric. In fact, much of the book is an explicit critique of Bailyn’s Pulitzer Prize–winning 1968 book, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, which Thompson characterizes as “demonstrably false” or disingenuous. If Bailyn overstated the moral and ideological elements of the American Revolution, it seems that Thompson is just as reductionist in the other direction, as he argues that the “visionaries” behind the revolt did not mean to “encourage public deliberation, but to destroy their opponents in the mind of the people and to build parties that would help them to gather the political power they needed to promote their own ideologies.” Furthermore, it seems rather hyperbolic to claim that Jefferson’s view of natural rights is “nothing like Locke’s,” even it is different in many respects.

An often astute and scholarly work that’s hampered by its reductionism.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2011


Page Count: 200

Publisher: Commonwealth Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2019

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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