By turns absorbing, self-pitying, and intentionally (and unintentionally) amusing, former New York State chief judge Wachtler's memoir recounts a journey through hell—a prison term for charges stemming from attempted extortion, harassment, and kidnapping threats made against his former lover, socialite Joy Silverman, and her daughter. Wachtler is certainly entitled to criticize inequities he first discussed as a judge and then experienced as an inmate while serving 12 months in two federal prisons in North Carolina and Minnesota. These include mandatory jail sentences, draconian treatment for first-time drug offenders, dehumanizing strip searches, and overcrowded, violent prisons. One quality for which Wachtler won praise as a judge—his writing skill—is shown to best advantage in stories about fellow inmates, a group consisting of spies, Mafia kingpins, drug addicts, counterfeiters, and robbers. In his shock at his vertiginous fall from power, Wachtler echoes Sherman McCoy in his friend Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities. But it is his version of what brought him so low, not of what transpired in prison, that contains more spin than conviction. He writes that prescription-drug-induced manic-depression sparked his campaign against Silverman after their relationship ended, but doesn't explain why this didn't seem to affect his judicial performance. He attacks Michael Chertoff, the US attorney who prosecuted him, for seeking jail when an ``order of protection'' and mandated psychological treatment would have supposedly sufficed. Moreover, he cannot understand why Silverman went straight to the FBI about this case instead of simply asking him to stop. This is literally a case of ``blaming the victim,'' since one finds in Linda Wolfe's 1994 Double Life (an account otherwise hostile to Silverman) that Silverman did have her lawyer urge Wachtler to cease the harassment, only to have the judge deny everything, then escalate the threats. While compulsively readable, this confession conceals as much as it reveals, reeking more of resentment at the criminal justice system Wachtler once served than of repentance toward his victim. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-679-45653-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1997

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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.


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

Did you like this book?