by Thomas Frank ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 19, 2018
Flaws aside, the book is worth perusing, primarily for its keen analysis of why the Democrats have come up short in recent...
A liberal commentator offers his scathing take on contemporary American politics and culture.
One of the results of the shocking election of Donald Trump has been the political commentariat’s reassessment of the state of the nation. In that vein, Frank (Listen, Liberal, 2016, etc.), a former columnist for the Wall Street Journal and Harper’s and founding editor of the Baffler, assembles a series of essays that originally appeared in various publications from 2011 to 2018. The essays, asserts the author in his introduction, “all aim to tell one essential story”: the dissolution of the common bonds of American society as the rich and powerful accumulate more power and the rest of the citizenry is forgotten. Frank proceeds to paint a dystopian picture of struggling fast-food workers, greedy colleges and universities, and politicians’ disregard for the common folk, all culminating in the election of Trump, “the very personification of this low, dishonest age.” To his credit, the liberal author (he supported Bernie Sanders in 2016) acknowledges Trump’s appeal to the working-class and rural voters whom Democratic Party elites have all but abandoned. Moreover, several of his arguments should resonate with Americans of all political stripes. Is there any doubt, for example, that a factor in the skyrocketing cost of a college education is “the insane proliferation of university administrators”? Yet Frank’s analysis is occasionally faulty, as when he writes that Barack Obama, whose administration added as much as $9 trillion to the national debt, made a “turn to austerity” following a “brief experiment with deficit spending.” While the author’s essay on modern colleges and universities is mostly spot-on, he doesn’t acknowledge the role that federal student loans have played in the outrageous rise in tuition he so rightly laments.Flaws aside, the book is worth perusing, primarily for its keen analysis of why the Democrats have come up short in recent election cycles. The party’s powers that be would be wise to read up.
Pub Date: June 19, 2018
Page Count: 240
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online: April 2, 2018
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018
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by Ta-Nehisi Coates ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 8, 2015
This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2015
New York Times Bestseller
National Book Award Winner
Pulitzer Prize Finalist
The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.
Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”
Pub Date: July 8, 2015
Page Count: 176
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015
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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.
“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.
It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.
Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019
Page Count: 432
Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019
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