Still, a highly readable account of the two regimes, drawing on an impressive wealth of primary documents.

THE DICTATORS

HITLER’S GERMANY, STALIN’S RUSSIA

A sprawling study of the 20th century’s foremost totalitarian systems and their infamous leaders, who are revealed to be, well, alike and different.

Against the French authors of The Black Book of Communism (1997), who asserted that Josef Stalin’s regime was even more monstrous than Adolf Hitler’s, British scholar Overy (The Battle of Britain, 2001, etc.) argues that “the historian’s responsibility is not to prove which of the two men was the more evil or deranged, but to try to understand the differing historical processes and states of mind that led both these dictatorships to murder on such a colossal scale.” Some 900 pages later, the reader will have learned a very great deal about the systematic growth of the totalitarian state; about the evolution of command economies that sought, in Russia’s case, to bring the state into the modern era and, in Germany’s, to overcome the state’s “vulnerable dependence on the wider world economy”; about the proliferation of concentration and labor camps in the 1930s. Overy does not add much to what is known about these systems, though he does remark, usefully, that some of Hitler’s early success came about because Germans were too embarrassed to confront him and that Stalin was no bumpkin, even if he didn’t know how to handle an oyster fork. (Stalin’s personal library, the author points out, numbered 40,000 well-read volumes.) Overy’s conclusions about these rulers’ differing conceptions of the state are unexceptionable: Hitler believed in an ethnic state, Stalin in a historically constructed one, and neither had any use for capitalism. His remarks about the complicity of the dictatorships’ subjects in the crimes of their rulers will not cause a stir these days, as they might have in times past. His notion, however, that Soviet communism was meant to advance human progress at large whereas Nazism was meant to serve one people alone will probably not satisfy those French scholars—and certainly does not constitute a satisfactory defense of the former.

Still, a highly readable account of the two regimes, drawing on an impressive wealth of primary documents.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-393-02030-4

Page Count: 900

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2004

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

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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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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