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A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE SAYING

THE NEW CONSPIRACISM AND THE ASSAULT ON DEMOCRACY

Some might disagree with the authors’ disparagement of populism and idealism toward two-party politics, but they are...

An analysis of how the nature of conspiracy charges and the possibility of confirming and refuting them have changed so radically in the Trump era.

Muirhead (Democracy and Politics/Dartmouth Coll.; The Promise of Party in a Polarized Age, 2014, etc.) and Rosenblum (Ethics in Politics and Government/Harvard Univ.; Good Neighbors: The Democracy of Everyday Life in America, 2016, etc.) note that the Declaration of Independence was a call for the Colonies to unite in resistance against a conspiracy of British subjugation and that Americans have continued to feed on conspiracy theories since the nation’s founding. Occasionally, those theories have even proven true, confirmed by a process that resembles detective work as well as journalistic enterprise. One of the things that distinguishes “the new conspiracism” is that it is “conspiracy without theory. It sheds explanation, and it sheds political theory.” These ever present conspiracies, often launched or spread by the current president, are more like viral rumors on how everything and everyone—Democrats, the press, the “deep state,” the FBI, the special prosecutor—are conspiring to thwart the will of the people and undercut the authority of the elected official. The authors’ closing warning quotes Trump: “There’s something going on that’s really, really bad. And we better get smart, and we better get tough, or we’re not going to have much of a country left.” Where they disagree is on the problem and the solution. So much of the new conspiracism is “sheer absurdity” and an “assault on reality.” They see the strength of the two-party system as essential to that process. When the president is a member of one party in name only and consistently demonizes what is usually considered the loyal opposition, we are left with a “malignant normality.”

Some might disagree with the authors’ disparagement of populism and idealism toward two-party politics, but they are convincing in their argument that there is something different afoot in the world of conspiracy and that danger lies ahead if we don’t confront it with truth and action.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-691-18883-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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