A rambling but sometimes on-target critique of kleptocratic public- and private-sector elites.

ON CORRUPTION IN AMERICA

AND WHAT IS AT STAKE

A former senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace deplores America’s willingness to ignore homegrown corruption that undermines democracy.

Anyone who has followed the outbreaks of COVID-19 at U.S. meatpacking plants may find one fact in this book especially chilling: In the anti-regulatory spirit of the Trump administration, the Department of Agriculture levied on such facilities one-tenth of the fines in 2018 that it had imposed in 2013 for rules violations. Chayes casts the slashed penalties as evidence of an alarming trend: America is turning a blind eye to the corruption of kleptocratic elites who—with an audacity unseen since the Gilded Age—enrich themselves through public- and private-sector (if not outright criminal) alliances. In an intermittently enlightening but digressive mix of history, analysis, and polemic, the author shows how the fat cats consolidate their power partly by shuttling among jobs at universities, government or nonprofit agencies, and corporations or top-tier law firms like Jones Day and Kirkland & Ellis. Moving from John D. Rockefeller’s era to the present, Chayes serves up some piquant details and anecdotes—e.g., one involving Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s clerkship for Anthony Kennedy: “This is the same Justice Kennedy whose son Justin was President Trump’s loan officer at Deutsche Bank, and whose early retirement gave Trump a surprise Supreme Court slot to fill.” Much of the story of how the U.S. sank into this ethics maw has been told before—see Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, and Zephyr Teachout’s Corruption in America—and Chayes’ effort to update the tale belabors metaphors from the Bible and Greek mythology and wanders far afield to Nigeria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Ultimately, however, this book supports the view of a federal prosecutor who told Chayes that today, “only bad criminals can get convicted”: “And I don’t mean dangerous criminals. I mean people who are just really bad at being corrupt.”

A rambling but sometimes on-target critique of kleptocratic public- and private-sector elites.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65485-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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