by Kai Bird ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 15, 2021
The best study to date of the Carter era and a substantial contribution to the history of the 1970s.
Searching biography of a president whose contributions, the author argues, are undervalued.
Though Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) has been “perceived as a ‘weak’ or hapless executive,” that view, writes Pulitzer winner Bird, is “a simplistic caricature.” Carter’s single term in office was “consequential.” Bracketed between the Nixon/Ford and Reagan/Bush eras, it marked such matters as the beginnings of corporate deregulation and the beginning of the end of the Cold War. Carter is also remembered as a scolding moralist. He earns the rubric “outlier” for being a Washington outsider, a former governor swept into higher office largely because he wasn’t a Republican—but also, by Bird’s sharp account, for taking his own path, often against the counsel of his advisers. For example, he was urged not to hire economist Paul Volcker to lead the fight against inflation, knowing that Volcker “intended to make the economy scream as he faced reelection.” Carter’s failures, Bird suggests, were often not of his doing: A deeply split Democratic legislature made up then of Southern conservatives (who would soon defect to the GOP) and Northern liberals hampered him, and he had the likes of Edward Kennedy dogging him constantly. The author’s sprawling study is sometimes repetitious—e.g., he repeats the observation that Carter made more minority appointments to the federal judiciary than any other president before him. Nonetheless, Bird is a keen biographer of political figures, and he offers a welcome reminder that Carter’s liberal impulses were correct while his missteps were often the result of events he could not fully control, as when the Reagan campaign, in a “treasonous caper,” putatively met with the Iranian regime to delay release of the Tehran hostages and “scuttle Carter’s second-term presidency.” Shelve this alongside Jonathan Alter’s equally incisive biography, His Very Best.The best study to date of the Carter era and a substantial contribution to the history of the 1970s.
Pub Date: June 15, 2021
Page Count: 784
Review Posted Online: March 12, 2021
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021
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by Ta-Nehisi Coates ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 8, 2015
This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2015
New York Times Bestseller
National Book Award Winner
Pulitzer Prize Finalist
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
Page Count: 176
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015
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by Howard Zinn ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 1, 1979
For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.
Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979
Page Count: 772
Publisher: Harper & Row
Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979
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