A deeply insightful—and disturbing—analysis of both history and current affairs.

THE FOUR AGES OF AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY

WEAK POWER, GREAT POWER, SUPERPOWER, HYPERPOWER

A magisterial history of international relations in American history.

“The foreign policy of the United States…has been unusually ideolog­ical, unusually economic, and unusually democratic,” writes Mandelbaum, professor emeritus at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, with American leaders focused on ideals of liberty, human rights, and free elections. Comparatively weak for decades after the Revolution, America grew steadily, but it was the Civil War that caught the world’s attention. American money and production helped assure the Allied victory in World War I. Less “isolationist” between the wars than many popular histories claim, American foreign policy emphasized fiscal responsibility and disarmament until the Depression, when democratic powers turned inward and Germany and Japan sought to vastly expand their positions on the global stage. In his account of World War II, Mandelbaum emphasizes America’s own titanic expansion. By 1945, the U.S. manufactured 40% percent “of all the world’s armaments” and had built the world’s largest military. Then it was confronted by another superpower: the Soviet Union. Aided by conquests in Eastern Europe, a purported ally in Mao’s China, and the growing appeal of Marxism, the rise of the Soviets convinced Americans that they were under threat. This led to two large, disastrous wars in Korea and Vietnam, many smaller confrontations, a reconciliation with China, and, eventually, the unexpected disintegration of the Soviet Union. In the 1990s, America was the world’s unchallenged hyperpower, but the 21st century has been characterized by failure. The specter of terrorism, never a true military threat, obsessed American leaders, who plunged into expensive, fruitless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mandelbaum painfully concludes that many so-called American ideals have lost their appeal. Across the globe, radical nationalism has surged, and autocrats, often freely elected, have assumed power in many nations. Jingoistic extremist movements are flourishing in Western Europe and the U.S., and China’s rapid rise seems to have demoted America to superpower status or perhaps introduced another hyperpower.

A deeply insightful—and disturbing—analysis of both history and current affairs.

Pub Date: June 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-19-762179-0

Page Count: 600

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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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 moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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