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DOOM

THE POLITICS OF CATASTROPHE

Captivating, opinionated history from a knowledgeable source.

The bestselling British historian offers his thoughts on major disasters, including the current pandemic, with an emphasis on why humans handle them so badly.

After seeing his warnings about the severity of Covid-19 ignored in early 2020, Ferguson revived his interest in the role of disasters in world history. The result is this assertive, intensely researched, sometimes unconvincing, but always entertaining account. “Historians tend to gravitate toward the study of…extreme disasters, with a preference for the man-made varieties,” writes the author. “Yet they seldom reflect very deeply on their common properties.” With all disasters, the social context is crucial: A hurricane or earthquake is of no consequence unless there are people around. Perhaps most important of all, Ferguson emphasizes, these phenomena tend to follow “power laws” rather than the familiar normal distribution such as human heights. There is no average forest fire, stock market drop, or measles outbreak. Major catastrophes occur so rarely that few of us take the risk personally and continue to invest in risky stocks, settle in flood plains, and thrill at the beginning of the latest war. Historians follow every disaster with an explanation. Thus, they explain that the shocking 1914 outbreak of World War I was caused by decades of competition between Europe’s great powers. Ferguson disagrees, preferring Tolstoy’s view that human calamities are natural phenomena comparable to a hurricane. “Most disasters occur when a complex system goes critical,” writes the author, “usually as a result of some small perturbation.” After a handful of familiar examples (the Titanic, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, etc.), Ferguson returns to Covid, an ongoing preoccupation that he describes in superb detail. Unquestionably an economic disaster, in terms of lives lost, the author labels it a “medium-size disaster”—comparable to the 1957-1958 influenza pandemic rather than the epic 1918-1919 Spanish flu. Ferguson ends in September 2020, before the pandemic’s massive upswing, so future editions will require an addendum.

Captivating, opinionated history from a knowledgeable source.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29737-7

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A JEW

An important dialogue at a fraught time, emphasizing mutual candor, curiosity, and respect.

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Two bestselling authors engage in an enlightening back-and-forth about Jewishness and antisemitism.

Acho, author of Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man, and Tishby, author of Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth, discuss many of the searing issues for Jews today, delving into whether Jewishness is a religion, culture, ethnicity, or community—or all of the above. As Tishby points out, unlike in Christianity, one can be comfortably atheist and still be considered a Jew. She defines Judaism as a “big tent” religion with four main elements: religion, peoplehood, nationhood, and the idea of tikkun olam (“repairing the world through our actions”). She addresses candidly the hurtful stereotypes about Jews (that they are rich and powerful) that Acho grew up with in Dallas and how Jews internalize these antisemitic judgments. Moreover, Tishby notes, “it is literally impossible to be Jewish and not have any connection with Israel, and I’m not talking about borders or a dot on the map. Judaism…is an indigenous religion.” Acho wonders if one can legitimately criticize “Jewish people and their ideologies” without being antisemitic, and Tishby offers ways to check whether one’s criticism of Jews or Zionism is antisemitic or factually straightforward. The authors also touch on the deteriorating relationship between Black and Jewish Americans, despite their historically close alliance during the civil rights era. “As long as Jewish people get to benefit from appearing white while Black people have to suffer for being Black, there will always be resentment,” notes Acho. “Because the same thing that grants you all access—your skin color—is what grants us pain and punishment in perpetuity.” Finally, the authors underscore the importance of being mutual allies, and they conclude with helpful indexes on vernacular terms and customs.

An important dialogue at a fraught time, emphasizing mutual candor, curiosity, and respect.

Pub Date: April 30, 2024

ISBN: 9781668057858

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon Element

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2024

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THE AGE OF GRIEVANCE

A welcome call to grow up and cut out the whining.

The New York Times columnist serves up a cogent argument for shelving the grudge and sucking it up.

In 1976, Tom Wolfe described the “me decade” as a pit of mindless narcissism. A half century later, Bruni, author of Born Round and other bestselling books, calls for a renaming: “‘Me Turning Point’ would have been more accurate, because the period of time since has been a nonstop me jamboree.” Our present cultural situation, he notes, is marked by constant grievance and endless grasping. The ensuing blame game has its pros. Donald Trump, he notes, “became a victor by playing the victim, and his most impassioned oratory, such as it was, focused not on the good that he could do for others but on the bad supposedly done to him.” Bruni is an unabashed liberal, and while he places most of the worst behavior on the right—he opens with Sean Hannity’s bleating lie that the Biden administration was diverting scarce baby formula from needy Americans to illegal immigrants—he also allows that the left side of the aisle has committed its share of whining. A case in point: the silencing of a professor for showing an image of Mohammed to art students, neither religiously proscribed nor done without ample warning, but complained about by self-appointed student censors. Still, “not all grievances are created equal,” he writes. “There is January 6, 2021, and there is everything else. Attempts by leaders on the right to minimize what happened that day and lump it together with protests on the left are as ludicrous as they are dangerous.” Whether from left or right, Bruni calls for a dose of humility on the part of all: “an amalgam of kindness, openness, and silliness might be an effective solvent for grievance.”

A welcome call to grow up and cut out the whining.

Pub Date: April 30, 2024

ISBN: 9781668016435

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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