A dark picture of a sun-drenched island.

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OUR WOMAN IN HAVANA

REPORTING CASTRO’S CUBA

Sixty years after its revolution, Cuba faces a problematic future.

BBC Moscow correspondent Rainsford makes her literary debut with an insightful and dispiriting portrait of contemporary Cuba. Posted there from 2011 to 2014, and returning twice a year afterward, drawn to Havana’s “warmth and real beauty,” she has observed the island nation in transition as the Castro regime wound down, the U.S. opened trade and travel, and reforms augured hope. Graham Greene’s 1958 novel Our Man in Havana forms a backdrop for Rainsford’s report on the “making and unmaking of Castro’s Cuba.” Greene visited often during Cuba’s decadent, exotic “pleasure era,” when tourists, diplomats, gangsters, and gamblers poured into the “Caribbean Las Vegas.” Rainsford also follows the trail of Ruby Phillips, a New York Times correspondent from 1937 to 1961, witness to the political upheaval that finally impelled her to flee. In contrast to ebullient views of Cuban culture, such as Mark Kurlansky’s Havana, Rainsford characterizes Cuba as a nation “occupied with just staying afloat.” Although some restrictions have been lifted—the internet is more widely accessible—young Cubans see little hope for the future. Despite Raul Castro’s confirmation that he is stepping down, “the words I hear most from both Cubans and expats,” Rainsford writes, “are ‘frozen’ and ‘paralysis.’" “We don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” one young man tells her, explaining why so many of his friends are emigrating. “We’re living day to day. It’s all about getting by, not about having plans and ambitions.” After the revolution, abandoned mansions were partitioned into apartments, but by 2013, Cuba had a huge housing deficit, with many buildings classified “as somewhere between poor and perilous.” Even health care and free schooling have become “increasingly hard to fund and fraying around the edges.” Moreover, an atmosphere of suspicion, aroused in part by the Arab Spring uprisings, led to the installations of surveillance cameras outside the homes of known dissidents; “double speak,” a writer tells Rainsford, “is still a reality of everyday life."

A dark picture of a sun-drenched island.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-78607-399-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Oneworld Publications

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

FRONT ROW AT THE TRUMP SHOW

The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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