An insightful and squirm-inducing account of how the good guys won and then lost.

PUBLIC CITIZENS

THE ATTACK ON BIG GOVERNMENT AND THE REMAKING OF AMERICAN LIBERALISM

A focused study of 1960s and ’70s American politics and the effects of the public interest liberalism that emerged.

Most histories of this period explain that the liberal heirs of the New Deal overwhelmingly supported government programs. This may be the popular view of events, but history professor Sabin, who directs the Yale Environmental Humanities Program, tells a different and disturbing story. Many readers only recall the vivid civil rights and anti-war campaigns of the era, but the author emphasizes equally influential—and liberal—movements that attacked government itself. He reminds us that Rachel Carson’s bombshell, Silent Spring (1962), blamed the massive damage caused by insecticides on dimwitted bureaucrats who were supposed to be “looking after things.” In the same vein, Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) attacked government planners who bulldozed vibrant neighborhoods in favor of immense, sterile landscapes. Sabin directs much of his attention to Ralph Nader, whose 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed, criticized government traffic safety agencies, entirely subservient to an auto industry that denied responsibility for injuries and deaths from accidents and proclaimed that driver education was the key to saving lives. Nader devoted the rest of his life to denouncing the government, becoming a major figure in the rise of public interest law. The Clean Air Act (1970) and Clean Water Act (1972) would have been weaker if Nader’s activists had not passed over Republicans and polluters and attacked liberal Democrats for their modest commitment. Stung, they denounced Nader but passed laws with more teeth. Despite approving these liberal movements, Sabin comes to the grim conclusion that “Nader and his fellow activists helped destroy a political economic system that served the working class” and “helped fuel a corrosive antigovernment legacy.” That may be a tough pill to swallow for progressive activists today, but the author’s cogent history is timely and likely to be enduring.

An insightful and squirm-inducing account of how the good guys won and then lost.

Pub Date: Aug. 10, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-63404-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more