A fascinating and engrossing nose dive into the underreported depths of nautical insanity.

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OFF THE DEEP END

A HISTORY OF MADNESS AT SEA

How and why the sea has historically plagued those who work and play in its waves.

British journalist and avid sailor Compton’s (The Shipping Forecast: A Miscellany, 2016) affinity for the sea is evident throughout his engrossing exploration of the hypnotic and mentally altering effects of the world’s oceans. In 1941, his father, a Royal Navy lieutenant commander, was thrown from a torpedoed boat, and his fight for survival would psychologically haunt him for decades. It is this very terror and the “distorting lens of the sea” that fuels Compton’s passionate maritime scrutiny. He escorts readers along a globe-trotting tour of some of history’s most menacing bodies of water and the men and women who found themselves at the mercy of a host of bizarre illusions. The author scours the nautical histories of the Strait of Magellan at the dawn of the British Empire; a ship’s log notes disorientation, scurvy, suicide, and madness. Compton also looks at the phenomena of calenture first observed by Spanish sailors in the 17th century, and he explores the suppressed bipolar symptoms of Christopher Columbus and William Bligh in chapters that plumb the depths of psychosis at sea. Other true tales describe shipwreck survivors adrift on the open sea who desperately succumb to cannibalism to survive, as well as the physical effects of seawater ingestion, which virtually guarantees delirium, dehydration, and certain death. Elsewhere, solitary sailors fall prey not to storms or disease but “isolation and loneliness.” These historical incidents also carried with them the enduring social stigma of mental illness, and Compton intermittently addresses this issue while speculating on the true root causes of these “sea-induced frenzies.” Though relaxation and thalassotherapy are just a few of the touted benefits of oceanic waters, the author captures their unsavory capacity to haunt and perplex: “the sea has a lobsterpot full of tricks and illusions to confuse and beguile even the most rational 21st-century sailor.”

A fascinating and engrossing nose dive into the underreported depths of nautical insanity.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4729-4112-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Adlard Coles Nautical/Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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A welcome addition to the literature on immigration told by an author who understands the issue like few others.

THE UNDOCUMENTED AMERICANS

The debut book from “one of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard.”

In addition to delivering memorable portraits of undocumented immigrants residing precariously on Staten Island and in Miami, Cleveland, Flint, and New Haven, Cornejo Villavicencio, now enrolled in the American Studies doctorate program at Yale, shares her own Ecuadorian family story (she came to the U.S. at age 5) and her anger at the exploitation of hardworking immigrants in the U.S. Because the author fully comprehends the perils of undocumented immigrants speaking to journalist, she wisely built trust slowly with her subjects. Her own undocumented status helped the cause, as did her Spanish fluency. Still, she protects those who talked to her by changing their names and other personal information. Consequently, readers must trust implicitly that the author doesn’t invent or embellish. But as she notes, “this book is not a traditional nonfiction book….I took notes by hand during interviews and after the book was finished, I destroyed those notes.” Recounting her travels to the sites where undocumented women, men, and children struggle to live above the poverty line, she reports her findings in compelling, often heart-wrenching vignettes. Cornejo Villavicencio clearly shows how employers often cheat day laborers out of hard-earned wages, and policymakers and law enforcement agents exist primarily to harm rather than assist immigrants who look and speak differently. Often, cruelty arrives not only in economic terms, but also via verbal slurs and even violence. Throughout the narrative, the author explores her own psychological struggles, including her relationships with her parents, who are considered “illegal” in the nation where they have worked hard and tried to become model residents. In some of the most deeply revealing passages, Cornejo Villavicencio chronicles her struggles reconciling her desire to help undocumented children with the knowledge that she does not want "kids of my own." Ultimately, the author’s candor about herself removes worries about the credibility of her stories.

A welcome addition to the literature on immigration told by an author who understands the issue like few others.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-399-59268-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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