A cleareyed look at an iconic beauty pageant and its efforts to stave off irrelevance.

LOOKING FOR MISS AMERICA

DREAMERS, DISSIDENTS, FLAPPERS, AND FEMINISTS—A PAGEANT'S 100-YEAR QUEST TO DEFINE WOMANHOOD

The Miss America program heads toward its second century still trying to shed its image as a “leg show” or “cheesecake with a side of culture.”

Journalist Mifflin offers a lively and probing appraisal of a pageant that will observe its centennial in 2021. Drawing on research that includes interviews with former Miss Americas from different eras, this well-balanced account shows that while the program has helped many contestants envision futures beyond their hometowns, it has always had unsavory aspects at odds with its organizers’ efforts to invest it with a wholesome image. The most egregious of these, formally adopted in 1940 and in effect until the 1950s, required contestants to be “in good health and of the white race.” Fresh troubles hit in later decades as feminists’ protests and expanding women’s rights made the program look out of touch. Organizers tried to adapt by killing the swimsuit competition (2018) and having each contestant choose a “social issues platform” to promote (1990). Still, the TV ratings tanked, the number of entrants plunged, and the pageant CEO was forced out after emails surfaced showing that he had “slut-shamed” contestants. Perhaps the most disturbing fact in this book is that since 2007, entrants have had to engage in what Kate Shindle, Miss America 1998, calls “pay to play.” Each contestant “must raise a minimum amount—by soliciting donations—to compete,” and while some of the proceeds go to children’s hospitals, much of it goes to pageant scholarships, so that “contestants themselves have funded 85 percent of Miss America’s scholarships.” Mifflin relates all of this without descending into ridicule or screed and with a keen sympathy for both the costs and benefits to entrants. Whether fans or foes of Miss America, few readers will see the pageant in the same way after finishing this book.

A cleareyed look at an iconic beauty pageant and its efforts to stave off irrelevance. (16-page color insert)

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64009-223-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: April 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

THE CONTAGION NEXT TIME

The Covid-19 pandemic is not a one-off catastrophe. An epidemiologist presents a cogent argument for a fundamental refocusing of resources on “the foundational forces that shape health.”

In this passionate and instructive book, Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, writes that Covid emerged because we have long neglected basic preventative measures. “We invest vast amounts of money in healthcare,” he writes, “but comparatively little in health.” Readers looking to learn how governments (mainly the U.S.) mishandled the pandemic have a flood of books to choose from, but Galea has bigger issues to raise. Better medical care will not stop the next epidemic, he warns. We must structure a world “that is resilient to contagions.” He begins by describing the current state of world health, where progress has been spectacular. Global life expectancy has more than doubled since 1900. Malnutrition, poverty, and child mortality have dropped. However, as the author stresses repeatedly, medical progress contributed far less to the current situation than better food, clean water, hygiene, education, and prosperity. That’s the good news. More problematic is that money is a powerful determinant of health; those who have it live longer. Galea begins the bad news by pointing out the misleading statistic that Covid-19 kills less than 1% of those infected; that applies to young people in good health. For those over 60, it kills 6%, for diabetics, over 7%, and those with heart disease, over 10%. It also kills more Blacks than Whites, more poor than middle-class people, and more people without health insurance. The author is clearly not just interested in Covid. He attacks racism, sexism, and poverty in equal measure, making a plea for compassion toward stigmatized conditions such as obesity and addiction. He consistently urges the U.S. government, which has spared no expense and effort to defeat the pandemic, to do the same for social injustice.

An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-757642-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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