A timely, well-informed entry into a national debate.



An incisive look at immigration, assimilation, and national identity.

Award-winning journalist and NPR correspondent Gjelten (Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba, 2008, etc.) probes the immigrant experience after the 1965 Immigrant and Nationality Act, passed under Lyndon Johnson’s administration. This dramatic reform did away with quotas that privileged European ancestry; gave preference to spouses, minor children, and parents of immigrants who became citizens; and allocated 165,000 slots for others, half for those with “exceptional skills or education deemed ‘especially advantageous’ to the United States.” Although many lawmakers maintained that the act would not substantially change the country’s identity, some political scientists expressed consternation about assimilation: would immigrants comprise a permanent underclass—or worse, a threat—if they did not adopt what Samuel Huntington called “America’s Anglo-Protestant culture and political values?” As Seymour Martin Lipset put it, “becoming American was…an ideological act.” Now, 50 years after the act’s passage, Gjelten focuses on Fairfax, Virginia, a county that by 2010 had undergone “stunning demographic transformation.” In 1980, 9 percent of residents were foreign-born; by 2000, immigrants populated 40 percent of one unit of the county and 25 percent overall. Official publications were translated into six languages, hardly representing the more than 100 languages spoken in Fairfax. Based on interviews, Gjelten portrays in rich detail five immigrant families from Korea, Libya, and Bolivia, revealing the economic, social, political, and personal challenges for first- and second-generation family members. He examines schools’ responses to changing populations, the Muslims’ struggles as they met with ostracism after 9/11, new immigrants’ relationships with African-Americans, backlash incited by illegal immigration, and recent calls for new curbs. In a book reflecting Gjelten’s many years reporting overseas, he concludes that immigration has neither diluted national identity nor led to cultural separatism but, he optimistically sees, has enriched the nation, creating a new sense of “we.”

A timely, well-informed entry into a national debate.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4385-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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