Marshall is a skilled explainer of the world as it is, and geography buffs will be pleased by his latest.




Former Sky News diplomatic editor Marshall (A Flag Worth Dying For: The Power and Politics of National Symbols, 2017, etc.) looks at the human penchant for us-and-them division.

Walls: We either want them torn down or put up. In the author’s vigorous look across centuries and continents, walls can be real or metaphorical, “shorthand for barriers, fences, and divisions in all their variety.” One of the most divisive of these walls is the one that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel in a region that, Marshall writes, is in turn so beset by further subdivisions that coming to any political agreement seems to be a remote possibility at best. Marshall connects the Great Wall of China to another kind of dividing impulse, namely the Chinese hukou system, whereby, for thousands of years, people have been registered by birthplace and, in its most recent application, are eligible for social security and other benefits only in those places, so that a worker who moves to Shanghai for better wages loses medical coverage outside his or her home province. The call by Donald Trump for a new wall along the U.S.–Mexico border is an inevitable topic for a book of this kind, and Marshall obliges with a smart examination of how it is unlikely to succeed even if it were to be built in the face of “politics, budget, state law, federal law, nature, and international treaties.” Even though walls tend not to be very effective at keeping undesired people—or ideas—out, they continue to go up, and sometimes in unexpected places. The author points out the 300-mile-long wall that Botswana put up along the border with Zimbabwe ostensibly to contain hoof-and-mouth disease, “but unless Zimbabwean cows can do the high jump, it’s difficult to see why this wall needs to be so high.”

Marshall is a skilled explainer of the world as it is, and geography buffs will be pleased by his latest.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-8390-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scribner

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.


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.


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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