A tightly focused study of mountain societies that hints at future conflicts.




A veteran journalist drops into the highest hotspots across the globe for a sobering account of why mountainous regions often engender violence.

“From Kentucky to Kashmir,” Matloff (Conflict Reporting/Columbia School of Journalism; Home Girl: Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block, 2009, etc.) finds that mountainous regions—with their tendency toward insularity and suspicion regarding outsiders—disproportionately make up the most warlike zones on the planet. The author, who has visited many of these fraught elevations over the years, presents nine journalistic accounts from the front lines: Albania’s northern Dinaric Alps, the Sierra Madre of southern Mexico; Colombia’s Andes, Nepal’s Himalayas, the Northern Caucasus of Chechnya and Dagestan, Kashmir, Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush; Norway’s Lyngen Alps, and the Pyrenees and Swiss Alps. In the final chapter, which covers the Swiss Alps, Matloff offers a kind of reality check of the efficacy of the lofty Swiss in keeping peace and unity for hundreds of years—namely, a loose confederation of self-governing cantons. Long-running disputes between clans can start legendary strife, such as in Albania, where blood feuds endure for generations. The Zapatistas of the Sierre Madre, descendants of the ancient Maya, have been battling the central government for centuries over land rights and equal treatment. The indigenous Rai, only 2.8 percent of Nepal’s population and who live in the highest mountains in the world, are fighting the damming of their precious glacial waters, which, writes the author, also supply “Asian rivers on which billions of people depend.” Matloff interviewed many inhabitants of these highlands, recording their hardscrabble ways of life and the deep reverence they hold for the mountains. Moreover, she observed the American military training at the Army’s Mountain Warfare School in Jericho, Vermont, as they prepared for the harsh conditions in Afghanistan as well as Norway’s Arctic Allied Training Center, “where NATO trains its most hardened men for the high cold.”

A tightly focused study of mountain societies that hints at future conflicts.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-465-09788-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


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.


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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