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THE STORY OF RUSSIA

A lucid, astute text that unpacks the myths of Russian history to help explain present-day motivations and actions.

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An expert on Russia delivers a crucially relevant study of a country that has been continuously “subjected to the vicissitudes of ruling ideologies.”

Wolfson History Prize winner Figes, one of the world’s leading authorities on Russian history and culture, shows how, over centuries, Russian autocrats have manipulated intertwined layers of mythology and history to suit their political and imperial purposes. Regarding current affairs, the author argues convincingly that to understand Putin’s aggressive behavior toward Ukraine and other neighboring nations, it is essential to grasp how Russia has come to see itself within the global order, especially in Asia and Europe. Figes emphasizes the intensive push and pull between concepts of East and West since the dubious founding of Kievan Rus, “the first Russian state,” circa 980. Russia’s geography meant it had few natural boundaries and was vulnerable to invasion—e.g., by the Mongols—and its mere size often required strong, central military control. It was in Moscow’s interests to increase its territorial boundaries and keep its neighbors weak, a strategy still seen today. Figes explores the growth of the “patrimonial autocracy” and examines how much of the mechanics of the country’s autocracy, bureaucracy, military structure, oligarchy, and corruption were inherited from three centuries of Mongol rule. From Peter the Great to Catherine the Great to Alexander II (the reformer who freed the serfs) and through the Bolsheviks to Stalin: In most cases, everything belonged to the state, and there were few societal institutions to check that power. “This imbalance—between a dominating state and a weak society—has shaped the course of Russian history,” writes the author in a meaningful, definitive statement. Today, Putin repudiates any hint of Westernizing influences (Peter the Great) while elevating the Eastern (Kievan Rus, the Orthodox Church). In that, he is reminiscent of Stalin, who recognized the need for patriotic fervor and national myths and symbols to unite and ensure the oppression of the masses.

A lucid, astute text that unpacks the myths of Russian history to help explain present-day motivations and actions.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-79689-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

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WHAT THIS COMEDIAN SAID WILL SHOCK YOU

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

The comedian argues that the arts of moderation and common sense must be reinvigorated.

Some people are born snarky, some become snarky, and some have snarkiness thrust upon them. Judging from this book, Maher—host of HBO’s Real Time program and author of The New New Rules and When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden—is all three. As a comedian, he has a great deal of leeway to make fun of people in politics, and he often delivers hilarious swipes with a deadpan face. The author describes himself as a traditional liberal, with a disdain for Republicans (especially the MAGA variety) and a belief in free speech and personal freedom. He claims that he has stayed much the same for more than 20 years, while the left, he argues, has marched toward intolerance. He sees an addiction to extremism on both sides of the aisle, which fosters the belief that anyone who disagrees with you must be an enemy to be destroyed. However, Maher has always displayed his own streaks of extremism, and his scorched-earth takedowns eventually become problematic. The author has something nasty to say about everyone, it seems, and the sarcastic tone starts after more than 300 pages. As has been the case throughout his career, Maher is best taken in small doses. The book is worth reading for the author’s often spot-on skewering of inept politicians and celebrities, but it might be advisable to occasionally dip into it rather than read the whole thing in one sitting. Some parts of the text are hilarious, but others are merely insulting. Maher is undeniably talented, but some restraint would have produced a better book.

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

Pub Date: May 21, 2024

ISBN: 9781668051351

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

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Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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