On-the-ground reporting meets with strategic analysis to form a nuanced portrait of an ongoing conflict.



British journalist Harding offers a frontline view of the Russian-Ukrainian War.

Although previously bound up with the likes of Edward Snowden, now living in Russia, and Julian Assange, Harding himself is no friend of the Putin regime. Expelled from Russia a decade ago, he now lands on the opposing line, covering the events in Ukraine for the Guardian. Along his meandering course through the embattled country, the author examines rumor and fact. An example of the former was a supposed consultation between Putin and a Siberian shaman in support of his invasion; of the latter, the undeniable tensions that a Westward-turning Ukraine created in a theater of realpolitik that seems increasingly committed to Central Asian autocracy. The current war, Harding writes, is incontestably one of Putin’s choice, though he faults Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for discounting intelligence that suggested that Russia would actually invade: “It caused panic, depressed the economy, spooked foreign investors, and ran down the country’s currency and gold reserves. Why…should Ukraine suffer and its ‘cynical’ neighbor be rewarded?” Even so, Zelenskyy recovered, and one of his “soft-power” tools was to insist on transparency and decentralization even as a secretive, top-heavy Russia tried to make further inroads. Harding, a knowledgeable student of history, is particularly good when he considers Russian errors in the field as near mirror-image re-creations of those errors during World War II, when Stalin’s Russia relied on sacrificing thousands of soldiers to overwhelm a less populous enemy. Indeed, Russia’s wartime state has been “moving even further in the direction of the 1930s, using mechanisms of coercion and intimidation”—even as Ukraine is comparatively free and is able to exercise a secret weapon that’s no secret at all: Russian command is vertical, “always looking feudally upward,” while Ukraine’s is horizontal, with a citizen army bent on remaining democratic.

On-the-ground reporting meets with strategic analysis to form a nuanced portrait of an ongoing conflict.

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2022

ISBN: 9780593685174

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2022

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


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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A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.



A harrowing expedition to Antarctica, recounted by Departures senior features editor Sancton, who has reported from every continent on the planet.

On Aug. 16, 1897, the steam whaler Belgica set off from Belgium with young  Adrien de Gerlache as commandant. Thus begins Sancton’s riveting history of exploration, ingenuity, and survival. The commandant’s inexperienced, often unruly crew, half non-Belgian, included scientists, a rookie engineer, and first mate Roald Amundsen, who would later become a celebrated polar explorer. After loading a half ton of explosive tonite, the ship set sail with 23 crew members and two cats. In Rio de Janeiro, they were joined by Dr. Frederick Cook, a young, shameless huckster who had accompanied Robert Peary as a surgeon and ethnologist on an expedition to northern Greenland. In Punta Arenas, four seamen were removed for insubordination, and rats snuck onboard. In Tierra del Fuego, the ship ran aground for a while. Sancton evokes a calm anxiety as he chronicles the ship’s journey south. On Jan. 19, 1898, near the South Shetland Islands, the crew spotted the first icebergs. Rough waves swept someone overboard. Days later, they saw Antarctica in the distance. Glory was “finally within reach.” The author describes the discovery and naming of new lands and the work of the scientists gathering specimens. The ship continued through a perilous, ice-littered sea, as the commandant was anxious to reach a record-setting latitude. On March 6, the Belgica became icebound. The crew did everything they could to prepare for a dark, below-freezing winter, but they were wracked with despair, suffering headaches, insomnia, dizziness, and later, madness—all vividly capture by Sancton. The sun returned on July 22, and by March 1899, they were able to escape the ice. With a cast of intriguing characters and drama galore, this history reads like fiction and will thrill fans of Endurance and In the Kingdom of Ice.

A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984824-33-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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