An insightful chronicle of bloody repression and brave defiance.




A close look at Iranian culture and politics from the 1979 revolution to the present.

Journalist Secor, whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, and other publications, visited Iran five times between 2004 and 2012, interviewing more than 150 Iranians and observing four elections. Those experiences, and many published sources, inform her revealing, often shocking debut book about the turbulent nation perceived by the West as a monolithic threat. The 1979 uprising that ousted the shah “was supposed to yield a just and self-governing” nation; instead, the country fell into “war, want, and profound isolation.” Despite having an elected president and parliament, a cleric reigned as “vice-regent of God on earth” and commander of the army. All laws were subject to the approval of this Supreme Leader. Ayatollah Khomeini wielded that power with ferocity against liberals, leftists, and the United States. Nevertheless, some Iranian intellectuals questioned tradition, published widely read critiques, and looked to the West “for its most useful modern ideas while discarding its toxic core.” By the fall of 1998, many of these writers “understood that they were living under siege.” Within the next few years, writes Secor, “the Islamic Republic was riddled with mafia-like grids that operated in secrecy.” In June 2005, the country made a surprising choice for president: the little-known mayor of Tehran, arrogant, swaggering, with a scruffy beard and “goofy grin,” who campaigned as a populist: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “a common man, and a demagogue.” In matters foreign and domestic, “he smashed things and watched indifferently as others picked up the pieces.” Despite all this, Secor feels optimistic about Iran’s future, claiming that the nation has a “seemingly endless capacity to produce internal opposition to its own authoritarianism.” She characterizes its current president, Hassan Rouhani, as a moderate who wants to foster goodwill toward the West.

An insightful chronicle of bloody repression and brave defiance.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59448-710-1

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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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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