A heavy-handed yet ideologically coherent take on contemporary politics.

PLACEBOCRACY AND OTHER AILMENTS

A CLASSICAL LIBERAL TAKE ON AMERICA TODAY

A classical liberal offers a wide-ranging discussion of American political and social ills.

As a Renaissance man who worked in construction, firefighting, oil-spill cleanup, and the commercial maritime industry before becoming a lawyer, Hartwig is drawn to the multifaceted lives and intellectual curiosity of Thomas Jefferson and the other men who founded the United States. As a classical liberal, the author is also deeply sympathetic to their philosophy of limited government. Rather than signaling a new age of American politics, he sees the election of Donald Trump as president reflecting how far the U.S. has departed from its classical liberal moorings to became a “Placebocracy,” in which the government “devises solutions that appear to solve the problems of its constituents, while actually making things worse.” Because of Hartwig’s atypical ideological roots, readers across the political spectrum are likely to, at various intervals, nod in agreement at his hot, forceful views or want to toss his book aside. Like many on the left, the author places the declining incomes of middle-class Americans, corporate subsides, and preferential tax treatment for the rich at the center of the nation’s decline and rails against “short sighted” wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, religious fundamentalism, and “corporate monoliths.” Alternately, he joins many on the right in his occasional screeds against Hollywood celebrities, the “pop science” of climate change, and the “political correctness” that polices “any banter whatsoever involving ethnicity, culture, gender…or the myriad of other topics that used to be considered benign.” He is most passionate in his intriguing critiques of the American educational system, which is not only another example of an inept government at work, but has become “infected” with “political correctness” and “partisan politics” as well. In his comprehensive book, Hartwig presents eloquent and consistent arguments that eschew right or left paradigms, offering many rich details. But, given the author’s self-professed predilections toward history, many scholars will bristle at some of his superficial interpretations. Jefferson would be shocked, for instance, to read that his Federalist rival John Adams—the man he called a “monarch” and who signed the big-government, anti–free speech Sedition Act—was a man committed to forestalling the “excesses of the state.”

A heavy-handed yet ideologically coherent take on contemporary politics. (acknowledgements, "Recommended Reading (A Partial List) / Bibliography")

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59152-260-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Yucca Ash Press

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2020

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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