Well reasoned and argued, if unlikely to influence the people who could most stand to read it.



Elect a president, get a war.

By the lights of legal scholar Irons (Political Science/Univ. of California, San Diego; A People’s History of the Supreme Court, 1999, etc.), the U.S. has gone to war with a proper, constitutionally watertight declaration five times in its history as against “scores of undeclared wars and military incursions into other nations . . . in places as close as Mexico and as remote as Afghanistan.” The last formal declaration occurred on December 7, 1941, the dawn of the superimperial age of American empire; in the last war, which George W. Bush launched against Iraq, he didn’t bother working the Congress to do that job, as the Constitution demands, but instead announced what he intended and got a green-light resolution, much as his father had done in 1991. Congress gave him what he wanted, Irons asserts, because that’s what Congress does these days; no one wants to make a fuss about constitutional niceties, which is why the Patriot Act sailed through so easily. Incidental to his larger purpose, Irons imagines a scenario in which antiwar protestors are ipso facto declared guilty of domestic terrorism, a prospect that he believes true to “the government’s penchant for stifling legitimate criticism during wartime”; the Supreme Court’s behavior in recent years, he suggests, gives little reason to think that it couldn’t happen. The presidential fiat has long precedent, Irons writes, perhaps most powerfully in Abraham Lincoln’s wartime suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, which in turn afforded Franklin Roosevelt’s government legal authority to round up Japanese American citizens in that last declared war. Irons strikes notes of gloom throughout what is a thought-provoking treatise, observing that John Kerry seems not to have questioned the idea that a president can wing it when it comes to war, and lamenting the outcome of the last election as proof that the American people want their thinking done for them by somebody else—and that they’re happy with the unconstitutional application of American power.

Well reasoned and argued, if unlikely to influence the people who could most stand to read it.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2005

ISBN: 0-8050-7593-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2005

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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