With fresh research, the authors effectively humanize the women who never received the nominations they deserved.

SHORTLISTED

WOMEN IN THE SHADOWS OF THE SUPREME COURT

Two law professors collaborate to tell the political and personal sagas of women publicly considered for appointment to the Supreme Court but never actually nominated by a president.

Before the 1981 confirmation of Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman Supreme Court justice ever, it appeared that several presidents would remove the gender barrier. However, political partisanship as well as misogyny scuttled every potential nominee. Though three women have followed O’Connor—Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1993), Sonia Sotomayor (2009), and Elena Kagan (2010)—Jefferson and Johnson rightfully remind readers that this is far from satisfactory in terms of both equity and common sense. No woman received a license to practice law in the U.S. until 1869, and that same year, “Washington University in St. Louis became the first law school to admit women.” For a time, it appeared either Herbert Hoover or Franklin Roosevelt would nominate Florence Allen, “the first woman whose name appeared on official lists of possible candidates for appointment” to the nation’s highest court. Unsurprisingly, however, Hoover and Roosevelt opted for yet another white male. After those missed opportunities for Allen, only five women received public consideration before Ronald Reagan nominated O’Connor. In the first section of the book, Jefferson and Johnson focus on the political maneuvering behind the consideration of each candidate. In the second section, the authors examine the personal and professional attributes of the shortlisted women, hoping to identify relevant lessons about the “gendered consequences” of being publicly considered but not nominated. The lessons involve successfully battling tokenism; overcoming stereotypes about motherhood or, alternately, childlessness; being subjected to examinations of sexuality, including the character of romantic partners; dealing with discrimination regarding older women; and navigating objections that women justices decide judicial disputes differently from men, and perhaps inappropriately.

With fresh research, the authors effectively humanize the women who never received the nominations they deserved.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4798-9591-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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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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If that promise of clarity is what awaits us all, then death doesn’t seem so awful, and that is a great gift from Sacks. A...

GRATITUDE

Valediction from the late neurologist and writer Sacks (On the Move: A Life, 2015, etc.).

In this set of four short essays, much-forwarded opinion pieces from the New York Times, the author ponders illness, specifically the metastatic cancer that spread from eye to liver and in doing so foreclosed any possibility of treatment. His brief reflections on that unfortunate development give way to, yes, gratitude as he examines the good things that he has experienced over what, in the end, turned out to be a rather long life after all, lasting 82 years. To be sure, Sacks has regrets about leaving the world, not least of them not being around to see “a thousand…breakthroughs in the physical and biological sciences,” as well as the night sky sprinkled with stars and the yellow legal pads on which he worked sprinkled with words. Sacks works a few familiar tropes and elaborates others. Charmingly, he reflects on his habit since childhood of associating each year of his life with the element of corresponding atomic weight on the periodic table; given polonium’s “intense, murderous radioactivity,” then perhaps 84 isn’t all that it’s cut out to be. There are some glaring repetitions here, unfortunate given the intense brevity of this book, such as his twice citing Nathaniel Hawthorne’s call to revel in “intercourse with the world”—no, not that kind. Yet his thoughts overall—while not as soul-stirringly inspirational as the similar reflections of Randy Pausch or as bent on chasing down the story as Christopher Hitchens’ last book—are shaped into an austere beauty, as when Sacks writes of being able in his final moments to “see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts.”

If that promise of clarity is what awaits us all, then death doesn’t seem so awful, and that is a great gift from Sacks. A fitting, lovely farewell.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-451-49293-7

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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