A highly learned but sometimes-ponderous survey that will appeal to policy wonks. For most readers, a long-form essay would...




A public policy insider mines the nuances of states’ sovereignty and legitimacy in an increasingly unstable world.

Divided into three parts, delineating something of a past, present, and future approach, this systematic work by Council on Foreign Relations president Haass (Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America's House in Order, 2013, etc.) finds that the bland optimism maintained throughout the Cold War due to the grip of atomic deterrence has been unloosed by new structural and economic forces. For nations big or small, good or bad, these forces increasingly involve internal breakdowns requiring humanitarian intervention and occasionally lead to terrorism. In the first part, the author reaches back to the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) to show how the sovereignty of states was first acknowledged and respected; that order was “based on a balance of power involving independent states that do not interfere with one another’s ‘internal business.’ ” Subsequently, the Congress of Vienna helped to determine the sovereignty of states in the 19th century. While the world wars saw the breakdown of the Westphalian order—in the case of World War I, it was accidental and unintended, a “failure of deterrence and of diplomacy”—the era since 1945 has been transformational, with the former villains Germany and Japan now models of “regime change.” Moving from the Cold War to the present sense of disorder, rife with regional disputes, Haass sees Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the American response as the beginning of troubling new developments (although the author applauds U.S. activism). The push back against Iraq and other trouble spots, where internal brutality prompted international intervention on humanitarian grounds, drove the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine by the United Nations in 2005. The author concludes his knowledgeable but overlong narrative with some predictions for the future—e.g., “mounting debt will hasten the demise of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.”

A highly learned but sometimes-ponderous survey that will appeal to policy wonks. For most readers, a long-form essay would have sufficed.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-56236-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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