The thesis is eminently arguable, but the book is packed full of provocative ideas well worth considering.

ONE BILLION AMERICANS

THE CASE FOR THINKING BIGGER

An argument that blends demography, economics, and politics to suggest a way to maintain America’s great-power status in the 21st century.

It’s enough to make a zero population growth advocate faint. Vox co-founder and editor Yglesias proposes that the only way to keep China at bay is to beat the Chinese at their own game, growing a population of 1 billion Americans. But how? One ingredient is a far more liberal immigration policy: “The solution to the illegal immigration crisis is to let more people come legally, not tie ourselves into knots trying to stop the flow.” Another ingredient is a massive expansion of the social welfare state to allow for such things as family leave and tax concessions. And what of already overcrowded American cities and their minuscule amounts of affordable housing stock? It’s the last matter at which the author’s argument really takes off. He offers a well-deliberated critique of housing policies that he does not hesitate to call racist, policies that forbid the construction of multiple-family dwellings in suburban and exurban areas. Yglesias proposes that immigrants be encouraged to live in uncrowded cities in the interior, bringing new vigor to American places that lack cultural or economic life. Still, the author is a celebrant of the metropolis, noting that, for instance, if a given town builds a base to accommodate 30 restaurants, “not only do you get specialization, you get competition—two different burger joints offering a slightly different approach”—as well as “a deeper labor market.” However, won’t 1 billion people crowd out nature, farms, etc.? In his proposed scenario, the density of the lower 48 states would be 3.5 times lower than England today, resembling France more than overstuffed Holland or Italy. He sees nothing but economic good in population growth. “A bigger country will need a lot of new stuff,” he writes. “So will a zero-carbon economy.”

The thesis is eminently arguable, but the book is packed full of provocative ideas well worth considering.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-19021-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

THE WAR ON THE WEST

A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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