Penetrating history with a modest dollop of optimism.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

READ REVIEW

FIRST PRINCIPLES

WHAT AMERICA'S FOUNDERS LEARNED FROM THE GREEKS AND ROMANS AND HOW THAT SHAPED OUR COUNTRY

An exploration of the major influences of America’s first four presidents.

“What just happened?” That was the question that Pulitzer Prize winner Ricks—along with tens of millions of Americans—asked after the 2016 presidential election. The author also asked, “What kind of nation do we now have? Is this what was designed or intended by the nation’s founders?” He proceeded to study their writings, which turned out to pay some attention to the British Constitution and French Enlightenment but more to the ancients. According to Ricks, George Washington soaked up classic Roman values of honor, self-control, and, above all, “virtue,” by which the Romans “meant public-mindedness.” John Adams considered himself a modern Cicero, raging against tyranny. Jefferson preferred the Greeks, a more philosophical culture but also (unlike Rome) a fractious confederation during its golden age. This may explain why he, unlike his colleagues, felt no great need for the Constitution. The scholarly Madison spent years in a methodical study of ancient political systems, enabling him to steer the Constitutional Convention through sheer expertise. Ricks admits that by the time Washington assumed office in 1789, the classical model was running out of steam. Both he and Adams raged against “faction,” an evil during the Roman Republic. Jefferson was angry, as well, but proceeded to found the first political party. No one foresaw the Industrial Revolution, the arrival of democracy (“mob rule” to the Founding Fathers), or a civil war, but the U.S. adapted. However, Ricks emphasizes that the Founders’ reluctance to confront slavery embedded a racism that continues to poison the American political system. The author reassures readers that the durable Constitutional order can handle a Donald Trump, and he concludes with 10 strategies for putting the nation back on course. All are admirable, although several—e.g., campaign finance reform, congressional reform, mutual tolerance—regularly fail in practice.

Penetrating history with a modest dollop of optimism.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-299745-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more