An affectionate, probing cultural portrait, as stark as it is entertaining.

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A DEATH IN BRAZIL

A BOOK OF OMISSIONS

Under intellectual scrutiny from a part-time resident, the world’s fifth largest country comes alive as “the oddest and most thrilling” in our hemisphere.

Readers who pick this up expecting a travel guide will have to look beyond open sewers befouling pristine beaches and bags of garbage flung from apartment windows into the street where urchins sleep in cardboard boxes—and those are the lucky ones—to find Brazil’s real allure. But Robb (M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio, 2000, etc.) does find it, and it runs sensuously deep and mysterious. The biggest mystery: Why is a country of such beautiful people with such variegated lushness still constantly gashed by violence, cruelty, and corruption? The source, Robb offers, is a gap between richest and poorest “six times greater than countries like China, India, and Pakistan” and perhaps unequaled anywhere. He tracks Brazil’s culture of concentrated personal power and wealth from the colonial era, finding a strain of conspiratorial racism perversely at odds with a society where slavery was officially banned in 1888 and racial mixing has been energetically pursued for half a millennium. His “researches,” which include an attempt (after a few Scotches in a bar) to confront a political thug suspected of several murders, reveal how a government deformed by influence peddling, corruption, and a menacing military has managed to ignore the most basic needs of traditionally disenfranchised constituents. Robb, however, views current President Lula da Silva as something of a messiah in a country where pursuit of sensual pleasures and a big lunch has thus far thwarted development of a public conscience. Fortunately for adventurous readers, a researcher of mysteries also has to take time to nourish body and soul with things like grilled needlefish or the sumptuous polyglot bean stew called feijoada, washed down with Antarctic beer chilled to the point of freezing.

An affectionate, probing cultural portrait, as stark as it is entertaining.

Pub Date: May 5, 2004

ISBN: 0-8050-7641-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2004

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

FRONT ROW AT THE TRUMP SHOW

The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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