A report that deserves many readers, about matters that deserve many indictments.

HALLIBURTON’S ARMY

THE LONG, STRANGE TALE OF A PRIVATE, PROFITABLE AND OUT OF CONTROL TEXAS OIL COMPANY

A sordid tale of politics and profiteering, courtesy of the Bush administration and a compliant military.

The Halliburton Corporation, of which Dick Cheney was chief executive before becoming Bush’s vice president, is estimated to have provided more than 720 million meals to American service personnel, driven 400 million miles of convoy missions and made many billions of dollars for its work as the Pentagon’s principal subcontractor. This relationship was born when Cheney, as secretary of defense for George H.W. Bush, came up with a creative-accounting way to comply with a congressional mandate to trim the military budget and privatize a big chunk of the war machine. Whereas during the First Gulf War there was one civilian contractor for every 100 soldiers, writes investigative journalist Chatterjee (Iraq, Inc., 2004), the ratio is now nearly one to one. If Cheney’s maneuvering sounds a little conflict-of-interest–laden, it seems to have bothered no one in Washington until late in the prosecution of the Iraq War. Said one Pentagon whistleblower of the tainted procurement process, no-bid contracting and billions of dollars lost (and billions more earned fraudulently through various schemes), “the interest of a corporation…not the interests of American soldiers or American taxpayers, seemed to be paramount.” Chatterjee documents the malfeasance down to the penny; the book is data-rich and heavily footnoted, to the extent that it reads more like a treatise than a work of narrative journalism. Yet Chatterjee tells intriguing stories alongside the compendia of numbers, dates and names. He documents, without much commentary, some of the ironies that emerge in the Halliburton story, among them Cheney’s machinations to keep Iran open for Halliburton business while loudly putting sanctions in place—and claiming that the Iran hanky-panky was legal because it was conducted “by a foreign-owned subsidiary based in the Cayman Islands.”

A report that deserves many readers, about matters that deserve many indictments.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-56858-392-1

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Nation Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2008

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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