Catnip for election watchers and politics junkies, who will want to reread the book when the dust of 2020 settles.

LEARNING FROM LOSS

THE DEMOCRATS, 2016-2020

Why did Hillary Clinton lose the 2016 presidential election? This book deconstructs the many competing explanations—and shows why they matter in 2020.

Early on, political scientist Masket writes that the book was supposed to be about the Republicans’ shattering loss in the 2016 election, asking “how a patently unelectable candidate like Donald Trump somehow got the nomination and cost them an election that was obviously theirs to win.” It didn’t work out that way, leaving the Democrats to wonder how their eminently well-suited candidate failed to capture the White House. Many narratives were offered: The American public is sexist at the core. Clinton was out of touch with ordinary people. Voters rejected insider politics. Trump’s victory was a fluke. Then—though Masket doesn’t belabor the point—there were Comey, WikiLeaks, and the Russians. All these competing narratives have merited serious conversation. Analyzing them—while saying that the narratives themselves are less important than the interpretations—Masket examines how party politics work: The candidate is usually decided on well before the primaries ever begin, the polity is so polarized that landslides no longer occur, and campaigns are steadily less important than other vehicles of messaging. One critique is that Clinton should have campaigned harder in swing states, but, the author counters, she went all out in Pennsylvania and wound up losing by about a point all the same. “If all that campaign effort couldn’t save her in Pennsylvania, why would we think it would matter in Wisconsin?” he asks. In short, he notes, “there was no consensus explanation of 2016.” Looking at identity politics, messaging, coalition-building, the representation of minority and women voters, and the power of party elites, Masket concludes that by all measures, the Democratic Party is “actually a stronger party than the GOP.”

Catnip for election watchers and politics junkies, who will want to reread the book when the dust of 2020 settles.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-108-48212-7

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Cambridge Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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