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



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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This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.


A former NFL player casts his gimlet eye on American race relations.

In his first book, Acho, an analyst for Fox Sports who grew up in Dallas as the son of Nigerian immigrants, addresses White readers who have sent him questions about Black history and culture. “My childhood,” he writes, “was one big study abroad in white culture—followed by studying abroad in black culture during college and then during my years in the NFL, which I spent on teams with 80-90 percent black players, each of whom had his own experience of being a person of color in America. Now, I’m fluent in both cultures: black and white.” While the author avoids condescending to readers who already acknowledge their White privilege or understand why it’s unacceptable to use the N-word, he’s also attuned to the sensitive nature of the topic. As such, he has created “a place where questions you may have been afraid to ask get answered.” Acho has a deft touch and a historian’s knack for marshaling facts. He packs a lot into his concise narrative, from an incisive historical breakdown of American racial unrest and violence to the ways of cultural appropriation: Your friend respecting and appreciating Black arts and culture? OK. Kim Kardashian showing off her braids and attributing her sense of style to Bo Derek? Not so much. Within larger chapters, the text, which originated with the author’s online video series with the same title, is neatly organized under helpful headings: “Let’s rewind,” “Let’s get uncomfortable,” “Talk it, walk it.” Acho can be funny, but that’s not his goal—nor is he pedaling gotcha zingers or pleas for headlines. The author delivers exactly what he promises in the title, tackling difficult topics with the depth of an engaged cultural thinker and the style of an experienced wordsmith. Throughout, Acho is a friendly guide, seeking to sow understanding even if it means risking just a little discord.

This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020


Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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