Recommended reading for foreign policy and geopolitics wonks.

EXERCISE OF POWER

AMERICAN FAILURES, SUCCESSES, AND A NEW PATH FORWARD IN THE POST–COLD WAR WORLD

Former Secretary of Defense Gates offers a sweeping view of the uses and limitations of American power in the modern era.

The U.S. remains the world’s foremost superpower, notes the author at the beginning, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not challenged at every turn: China is growing economically, with its political influence broadening; Russia “is aggressively threatening and attempting to destabilize Western democracies and dominate its neighbors”; and small states from North Korea to Iraq and Syria remain hot spots even as several NATO members become ever more autocratic. Recent political leaders, Gates holds, have failed to understand and project American power properly, certainly as compared to Eisenhower, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. The author relies on a half-century of service to critique the presidents who have come after them. On the military front, for instance, he urges the application of Bush’s cautious approach to Iraq in the first Gulf War: Define the objectives clearly, bring overwhelming force, and then get out. Career diplomats, though bureaucratized, are essential to the application of nonmilitary power. Economic power constitutes another instrument. Here, Gates takes Trump to task for an isolationist approach that leaves the door open to China to take the place of the U.S.—as it has been with its international infrastructure projects in 60 countries, all intended to hasten the transport of critical resources to China. Other failures are the invasion of Iraq in 2003, although the author disputes the claim that George W. Bush knowingly lied about weapons of mass destruction: “U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies simply were in error, with grave consequences.” Though critics of Gates will dismiss some of his programmatic recommendations—such as, say, don’t replace one dictator with another without a good plan in place—it’s refreshing to see a secretary of defense call for the use of the military as a choice of last resort.

Recommended reading for foreign policy and geopolitics wonks.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-3188-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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