Well-informed salvos to please or enrage, depending on one’s politics.

GLOBAL DISCONTENTS

CONVERSATIONS ON THE RISING THREATS TO DEMOCRACY

The well-known left-wing intellectual holds forth on global developments of the past five years, from Edward Snowden’s disclosures on government surveillance to Donald Trump’s efforts to “make America great again.”

At age 88, Chomsky (Emeritus, Linguistics and Philosophy/MIT; Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power, 2017, etc.) retains his provocative edge in this latest collection of conversations with Boulder-based broadcaster Barsamian (Alternative Radio), who first interviewed the dissenter more than 30 years ago. While occasionally offering personal glimpses—as when recalling his days among émigrés in the secondhand bookshops of New York in the 1930s and ’40s—Chomsky homes in on the “questionable” assumptions of American society, which “ought to be challenged and interrogated.” There are seemingly countless examples: “criminalization of drugs has been a societal disaster”; “corporations are not benevolent institutions”; “politicians are tapping elements of irrationality that are almost beyond description.” In a dozen interviews, the perennial provocateur discusses state surveillance, the Islamic State group, income inequality, fearmongering, the Middle East, voting, and the importance of organizing to effect change. “If a technology is available,” he writes, “a system of power is going to make use of it.” No matter the topic, he consistently manages to view contemporary events in historical context. As in his many earlier books (Power Systems, 2013, etc.), Barsamian gives us “Chomsky lite,” a taste of the activist’s thinking that undoubtedly leads to deeper reading. The interviewer’s evident knowledge of Chomsky and the issues allows him to steer the conversations in intriguing ways. Amid rising threats to democracy, Chomsky points to his source of hope: “people who are dedicated, who are struggling, often against really tremendous odds—not like us—to create decent spaces for existence and a better world.”

Well-informed salvos to please or enrage, depending on one’s politics.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-14618-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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