Informed and passionate words to bring cheers from Never Trumpers and no reaction from Trump fans, who won’t read it.



A veteran American historian looks back at previous presidencies to see how we arrived at our current one.

Dallek—who has published works about Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon, among others—devotes chapters to all the presidents between Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, briefly summarizing their lives and times and assessing their strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments, and failures. No fan of Donald Trump, the author emphasizes the previous presidents’ failures and sees how they have led to Trump, who gets his own damning chapter at the end. Dallek does a good job of seeing the strengths of presidents he does not otherwise admire, and he also explores the weaknesses in those he does admire. For example, he credits Nixon for his advances with China, and he chides FDR for deceptions about his health. Dallek makes clear that all the negative aspects of previous presidents have come home to roost in Trump: Theodore Roosevelt’s craving for attention and his self-adoration, Woodrow Wilson’s “exaggerated presidential promises,” Truman’s making war in Korea without Congressional approval, Dwight Eisenhower’s moves in Iran and Vietnam, JFK’s focus on image, LBJ’s “deceitfulness on foreign affairs,” Nixon’s fondness for imperiousness, Jimmy Carter’s ineffectualness, and Reagan’s use of celebrity as a political weapon and his displays of ignorance. In the final chapter, Dallek’s dagger emerges. Trump is a “retrograde force” whose “abusive language” shreds dignity from the office—as do his innumerable lies, distortions, and overall boorishness. “Making America great again,” writes the author, “hardly satisfies any standard for leading us into a better future.” The author shifts from the third person to the first from time to time to tell us about a relevant personal experience—e.g., his 1979 meeting with some Soviet historians in Moscow.

Informed and passionate words to bring cheers from Never Trumpers and no reaction from Trump fans, who won’t read it.

Pub Date: May 26, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-287299-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.


A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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