A longtime policy wonk delivers an engrossing look at his work fighting poverty in government and academic environments.

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THE BOAT CAPTAIN’S CONUNDRUM

A WHIMSICAL TOUR THROUGH A POLICY WONK'S MIND

A veteran of poverty research and welfare reform presents a broad retrospective of his career.

In this memoir, Corbett (Ouch, Now I Remember, 2015, etc.) offers the third volume of his professional reminiscences about his experiences studying poverty and methods of combating it in both an academic and government context. The author recounts stories from his decades of work, providing an answer to the question he poses in the book’s introduction: “How could a young man so dense that he could not handle basic high school algebra rise to a leadership position in a leading research institute at a top-flight university?” The answer, shared with a mix of merited self-assurance and self-deprecating humor, is Corbett’s holistic approach to both responding to the challenges of poverty and to bridging the gap between theoretical and applied social sciences. With frequent references to his previous writings, both the earlier memoirs and his academic publications, the author leads the reader through trends in understanding poverty and providing government assistance as they evolve through the later decades of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. One of the book’s strongest sections addresses the sudden popularity of a metaphor Corbett used to explain poverty programs: “I did not know fame was so easily secured, or that silly notions had such permanency in the intellectual firmament,” he reflects. Although the volume’s length is daunting, and portions could benefit from being shortened, as a whole it is an effective narrative, blending academic pursuits with making a concrete difference in individual lives and institutional procedures. The account recognizes the many ongoing problems of combating poverty while celebrating advances that have been made. And despite Corbett’s acknowledgment that “talking about bureaucracies had little to recommend itself to someone interested in actually selling books,” his experiences with President Bill Clinton’s and Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson’s reform initiatives are far from dull and make for often compelling storytelling.

A longtime policy wonk delivers an engrossing look at his work fighting poverty in government and academic environments.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5245-4822-3

Page Count: 452

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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