With provocative arguments and convincing solutions, Howard offers a fresh, nonpartisan approach that will appeal to anyone...




“Practicality may be America’s core virtue. But not in Washington.” So writes the Common Good founder in his latest deconstruction of American politics.

For more than two decades, Howard (The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government, 2014, etc.) has offered viable solutions for more effective democracy, and his latest book is right in line with his efforts to invoke long-overdue change in our stagnant, dysfunctional political culture. “America needs a governing framework that reconnects real people with actual results,” he writes. Though there are countless calls for Washington to produce more laws and better rules, this only complicates an already dense morass of legislative overkill. “Government’s abject failure to make practical choices is not a matter of dispute,” writes Howard, continuing, “Republicans call for deregulation. Democrats call for more regulation and more funding. Meanwhile the actual cause of the failure, the inability to be sensible in actual situations, is demonstrated to Americans on a daily basis.” But mere tweaks won’t be sufficient; the government needs an overhaul. Wishful thinking? Not according to Howard. Citing everyone from Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to Winston Churchill, Tocqueville, and Studs Terkel, the author optimistically lays out a no-nonsense playbook for sustainable government and an American future driven by accountability and personal and political responsibility. However, this will only occur if the people demand an overhaul and if leaders are willing to initiate it. Conditioned to run things by the book, officials are now “disempowered from doing what they know is right.” The answer isn’t revolutionary, writes the author, but once officials receive more authority to regulate, voters will have to be ever more vigilant and civically active. “Our fifty-year vacation from active democracy has come to an end,” he writes. “No more reclining in the Barcalounger and griping at the television.”

With provocative arguments and convincing solutions, Howard offers a fresh, nonpartisan approach that will appeal to anyone frustrated with government’s ongoing failures.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-324-00176-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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


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.


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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