A well-meaning but disappointingly dull slice of an otherwise dramatic era in American political history.

BAG MAN

THE WILD CRIMES, AUDACIOUS COVER-UP, AND SPECTACULAR DOWNFALL OF A BRAZEN CROOK IN THE WHITE HOUSE

MSNBC host Maddow and producer Yarvitz present a book version of their podcast about the misdeeds of former vice president Spiro Agnew.

Given the continuing malfeasance emanating from seemingly every corner of the Trump White House, the text is certainly relevant. However, as with many podcast-to-book translations, the narrative doesn’t quite engage on the same level. This by-the-numbers dip into the murky waters of American political corruption does serve as a welcome reminder that, unlike today, in the case of Agnew, political crimes were actually punished (and in a nonpartisan fashion). Although Agnew is more or less a political/historical footnote, the authors note that he had the dishonorable distinction of being the only sitting vice president ever convicted of a felony. His crime was tax evasion, but he had also taken bribes and kickbacks during a previous stint in local Maryland politics. In 1973, Agnew became the only vice president to resign from office in disgrace; yet because he was not part of Nixon’s inner circle, he had nothing to do with the break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Despite a professed patriotic love of America, he just didn’t want to pay his fair share in taxes. Despite the sensationalist subtitle and hip, often lively tone, the narrative fails to make Agnew’s story any more riveting than a long-form magazine article—or podcast. The authors clearly did their due diligence when it comes to research, but while they make some effort to present Agnew’s attack-dog political tactics as the precedent for Trump’s tirades against anyone who opposes him, this connection is not emphasized enough. It’s also commendable that Maddow and Yarvitz spotlight the long-unsung prosecutorial team that took down Agnew, but the description and pacing of the trial scenes make that section feel anticlimactic.

A well-meaning but disappointingly dull slice of an otherwise dramatic era in American political history.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13668-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A lucid, astute text that unpacks the myths of Russian history to help explain present-day motivations and actions.

THE STORY OF RUSSIA

An expert on Russia delivers a crucially relevant study of a country that has been continuously “subjected to the vicissitudes of ruling ideologies.”

Wolfson History Prize winner Figes, one of the world’s leading authorities on Russian history and culture, shows how, over centuries, Russian autocrats have manipulated intertwined layers of mythology and history to suit their political and imperial purposes. Regarding current affairs, the author argues convincingly that to understand Putin’s aggressive behavior toward Ukraine and other neighboring nations, it is essential to grasp how Russia has come to see itself within the global order, especially in Asia and Europe. Figes emphasizes the intensive push and pull between concepts of East and West since the dubious founding of Kievan Rus, “the first Russian state,” circa 980. Russia’s geography meant it had few natural boundaries and was vulnerable to invasion—e.g., by the Mongols—and its mere size often required strong, central military control. It was in Moscow’s interests to increase its territorial boundaries and keep its neighbors weak, a strategy still seen today. Figes explores the growth of the “patrimonial autocracy” and examines how much of the mechanics of the country’s autocracy, bureaucracy, military structure, oligarchy, and corruption were inherited from three centuries of Mongol rule. From Peter the Great to Catherine the Great to Alexander II (the reformer who freed the serfs) and through the Bolsheviks to Stalin: In most cases, everything belonged to the state, and there were few societal institutions to check that power. “This imbalance—between a dominating state and a weak society—has shaped the course of Russian history,” writes the author in a meaningful, definitive statement. Today, Putin repudiates any hint of Westernizing influences (Peter the Great) while elevating the Eastern (Kievan Rus, the Orthodox Church). In that, he is reminiscent of Stalin, who recognized the need for patriotic fervor and national myths and symbols to unite and ensure the oppression of the masses.

A lucid, astute text that unpacks the myths of Russian history to help explain present-day motivations and actions.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-2507-9689-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

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