The thesis is unremarkable, but Fronczak’s study of the Spanish Civil War has considerable merit.

EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE

ANTIFASCISM AND THE LEFT IN THE AGE OF FASCISM

Scholarly examination of the relationship between anti-fascism and fascism, each contingent on the other.

Princeton historian Fronczak points out that our consensus view of what the left constitutes largely hinges on convergences of the 1930s. “Antifascism was the central idea pulling the left together in the years leading up to the Spanish Civil War,” he writes, “and then pushing leftists to go to Spain to fight together there.” There had been fascist movements in the decade before, including the 400 black shirts who marched in New York City in 1927, and opposition to them. While the face of fascism has changed—globalized, Fronczak writes, in its encounters with populist and nationalist movements around the world—its existence has served constantly to reenergize the left. It is hardly a novel idea that fascism is an overworked term defined variously from individual points of view, but the better part of this book is the author’s study of Spain as crucible. Fronczak corrects some points of Cold War ideology—e.g., that the Popular Front was a creation of the Comintern; it dates, he argues, to an earlier coalition on the French-German border “determined to win regional autonomy for the Alsatian people,” some of whose members were renegade Communists going against the party line. The author also highlights figures who have fallen into obscurity, such as the Black American fighter Oliver Law, who, born on a ranch in Texas, became a militant anti-fascist commander in Spain, where, despite official claims of equality, he was often tested on account of his race. “Right, left, fascism, and antifascism—these have all become once more words that people find worth fighting over,” Fronczak notes in closing. His book is a touch arid, but if nothing else, one hopes that it will send readers to wider accounts of the Spanish Civil War—by, for instance, Hugh Thomas or Antony Beevor—to deepen their knowledge.

The thesis is unremarkable, but Fronczak’s study of the Spanish Civil War has considerable merit.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-300-25117-3

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2022

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Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

SO HELP ME GOD

The former vice president reflects warmly on the president whose followers were encouraged to hang him.

Pence’s calm during the Trump years has been a source of bemusement, especially during the administration’s calamitous demise. In this bulky, oddly uncurious political memoir, Pence suggests the source of his composure is simple: frequent prayer and bottomless patience for politicking. After a relatively speedy recap of his personal and political history in Indiana—born-again Christian, conservative radio host, congressman, governor—he remembers greeting the prospect of serving under Trump with enthusiasm. He “was giving voice to the desperation and frustration caused by decades of government mismanagement,” he writes. Recounting how the Trump-Pence ticket won the White House in 2016, he recalls Trump as a fundamentally hardworking president, albeit one who often shot from the hip. Yet Pence finds Trump’s impulsivity an asset, setting contentious foreign leaders and Democrats off-balance. Soon they settled into good cop–bad cop roles; he was “the gentler voice,” while “it was Trump’s job to bring the thunder.” Throughout, Pence rationalizes and forgives all sorts of thundering. Sniping at John McCain? McCain never really took the time to understand him! Revolving-door staffers? He’s running government like a business! That phone call with Ukraine’s president? Overblown! Downplaying the threat Covid-19 presented in early 2020? Evidence, somehow, of “the leadership that President Trump showed in the early, harrowing days of the pandemic.” But for a second-in-command to such a disruptive figure, Pence dwells little on Trump’s motivations, which makes the story’s climax—Trump’s 2020 election denials and the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection—impossible for him to reconcile. How could such a selfless patriot fall under the sway of bad lawyers and conspiracy theorists? God only knows. Chalk it up to Pence's forgiving nature. In the lengthy acknowledgments he thanks seemingly everybody he’s known personally or politically; but one name’s missing.

Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2022

ISBN: 9781982190330

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2022

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Certain to be controversial, but all the more important for that.

PIRATE ENLIGHTENMENT, OR THE REAL LIBERTALIA

The final book from the longtime activist anthropologist.

In a lively display of up-to-date anthropology, Graeber (1961-2020) offers a behind-the-scenes view of how a skilled researcher extracts knowledge from the slimmest evidence about a long-ago multiethnic society composed of pirates and settled members of existing communities. In this posthumous book, the author turns to 17th- and 18th-century Madagascar and examines hard-to-credit sources to tease out some plausible facts about the creation and early life of a distinctive Indian Ocean society, some of whose Malagasy descendants (“the Zana-Malata”) are alive today. Exhibiting his characteristic politically tinged sympathies, Graeber describes the pirates who plied the seas and settled on Madagascar as an ethno-racially integrated proletariat “spearheading the development of new forms of democratic governance.” He also argues that many of the pirates and others displayed European Enlightenment ideas even though they inhabited “a very unlikely home for Enlightenment political experiments.” Malagasies were “Madagascar’s most stubbornly egalitarian peoples,” and, as the author shows, women played significant roles in the society, which reflected Jewish, Muslin, Ismaili, and Gnostic origins as well as native Malagasy and Christian ones. All of this information gives Graeber the chance to wonder, in his most provocative conjecture, whether Enlightenment ideals might have emerged as much beyond Western lands as within them. His argument that pirates, women traders, and community leaders in early 18th-century Madagascar were “global political actors in the fullest sense of the term” is overstated, but even with such excesses taken into account, the text is a tour de force of anthropological scholarship and an important addition to Malagasy history. It’s also a work written with a pleasingly light touch. The principal audience will be anthropologists, but those who love pirate lore or who seek evidence that mixed populations were long capable of establishing proto-democratic societies will also find enlightenment in these pages.

Certain to be controversial, but all the more important for that.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-374-61019-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2022

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