An important book: impeccably researched and well-presented.

IMPEACHMENT

AN AMERICAN HISTORY

A set of scholarly essays introduced by presidential scholar Engel offers historical context and precedent to a sticky Constitutional issue very much in the current public debate.

“Only three times in American history has a president’s conduct led to such political outrage or disarray as to warrant his potential removal from office,” writes Engel (Founding Director, Center for Presidential History/Southern Methodist Univ.; When the World Seemed New: George H.W. Bush and the End of the Cold War, 2017, etc.) in his introduction. Here, Engel and three other notable scholars present and analyze the cases. Weary of the sins of tyrants, the framers of the Constitution recognized the need for a strong unifying leader yet had the prescience to know that the ballot box alone could not deter corruption. Moreover, impeachment guarded against the recourse to assassination, while the steep legislative hurdles to the impeachment process resisted removing a president solely due to unpopularity. Yet, as Pulitzer-winning historian Meacham (The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, 2018, etc.) points out, in the precedent-setting case of Andrew Johnson, impeachment became “a weapon of politics” that could be used during a time of “great political passion but without clear violation of law.” As Naftali (Public Service/New York Univ.; George H.W. Bush, 2007, etc.) notes, for Richard Nixon, whose Saturday Night Massacre “awoke presidential impeachment from a century-long slumber,” the subsequent impeachment hearings proceeded in a nonpartisan fashion; the attempt to hide the tapes exposed “the ugliness of Nixon’s approach to power.” Nixon clearly demonstrated what the framers decreed “high crimes and misdemeanors.” In the case of Bill Clinton, as astutely delineated by New York Times chief White House correspondent Baker (Obama: The Call of History, 2017, etc.), impeachment became an “out-of-control coup d’état by prurient Republicans who sought to exploit personal failings for partisan gain.” While Engel does not offer as much speculation about Donald Trump as many readers would like, he reminds us that “one need not act illegally in order to act treasonably.”

An important book: impeccably researched and well-presented.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-984853-78-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Modern Library

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2018

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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