Lively and well-grounded, offering good measures by which to judge our best and worst presidents and their methods of...

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THE IMPOSSIBLE PRESIDENCY

THE RISE AND FALL OF AMERICA'S HIGHEST OFFICE

“Few leaders are impeached or assassinated; most die from a thousand cuts”: an illuminating look at the highest office in the land and its occupants.

When the Founding Fathers first wrestled with how to organize a government, writes Suri (Chair, Leadership in Global Affairs, Univ. of Texas; Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama, 2011, etc.), they quickly ascertained that the country “required central leadership that could unify competing interest groups without simultaneously denying their freedom.” That leadership was much stronger than the Articles of Confederation envisioned, yet, thanks to a carefully considered system of checks and balances, not tyrannical. Fortunately, the first president was George Washington, who, in the author’s view, “defined presidential authority as knowledge and trust-based.” The president knew things that were unavailable to ordinary citizens, who in turn had to place their trust in him to represent their interests. Theodore Roosevelt, by contrast, considered himself a kind of dictator or elected king, if a benevolent one who exemplified the progressive notion that smart and vigorous men “could improve a messy democratic process” by taking care of details best left unavailable to ordinary folks. Subsequent presidents have fallen somewhere between the models provided by those two presidents, if not outside them. Ronald Reagan, for instance, shunned the micromanagerial ways of Lyndon Johnson, with the ironic result that his administration was characterized by “policy indiscipline—too many interventions without careful strategic consideration.” On that note, Suri opines that the best use of presidential power is to confine it to a limited set of military, political, and economic objectives, even while noting that presidential power has grown so substantially in the post–World War II era that the office invites redefinition, inasmuch as “democratic leadership requires a vibrant fact-based public sphere, and trusted anchors for informed policy discussions”—things that are notable today for their apparent absence.

Lively and well-grounded, offering good measures by which to judge our best and worst presidents and their methods of governing.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-465-05173-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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