A painful yet gripping, essential account of a disastrous series of decisions.

TO START A WAR

HOW THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION TOOK AMERICA INTO IRAQ

An authoritative account of the background to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

A writer at large for the New York Times Magazine, Draper contrasts American Middle East policy with Iraq’s under Saddam Hussein since he took power in 1979; disturbingly, it remains unclear which was more dysfunctional. The author reminds readers that the U.S. supported Iraq after it invaded Iran in 1980 despite widespread atrocities perpetrated by Hussein. In 1991, American forces crushed Iraq’s army after it invaded Kuwait. Convinced that this humiliation would lead to Hussein’s overthrow, the U.S. withdrew. The war and ongoing sanctions impoverished Iraq, but Hussein’s rhetoric convinced everyone that he remained a threat. Draper paints George W. Bush as a decent man aware of his ignorance who surrounded himself with men of vast experience: Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. The author, who ably distills his deep research and reporting into a fluid narrative, is not the first to focus on Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense and a veteran adviser since the Reagan administration, who took a dislike to Hussein after the First Gulf War and never ceased urging his overthrow. Unconvinced but then horrified by 9/11, Bush vowed not to be blindsided a second time. As a result, he came to accept that Hussein, rather than Osama bin Laden, was the major figure behind terrorism. It helped that Cheney and Rumsfeld were on board. What followed makes excruciating reading because the true believers got everything wrong. Under pressure to find evidence justifying war (weapons of mass destruction, a Hussein–bin Laden connection), the CIA waffled, so the hawks created their own intelligence group that found it. An evenhanded chronicler, Draper reminds readers that most Americans, most congressmen, and even the New York Times supported invasion. Today, almost everyone has changed their minds, and the trillions of dollars wasted would be useful right now.

A painful yet gripping, essential account of a disastrous series of decisions.

Pub Date: July 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-56104-0

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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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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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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