Discouraging but insightful.




Books on the increasingly pugnacious Vladimir Putin, seemingly Russia’s president for as long as he wants, are not in short supply, but this short, shrewd analysis stands out.

“Not since the days of Reagan,” writes New Left Review editorial board member Wood, “has Russia seemed so central to US political life—and not since the depths of the Cold War has it been so unambiguously assumed across most of the political spectrum that Russia is the United States’ principal enemy.” There is less there than meets the eye, according to the author, who maintains that Putin is simply carrying on the policies of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Leaving the KGB in 1991, Putin made his reputation as a hardworking, absolutely loyal functionary. As designated successor in 2000, his first decree granted Yeltsin lifelong immunity from prosecution. Drunken and unpopular, Yeltsin was an easy act to follow, but Putin had a stroke of luck. Oil prices, the major source of government income, reversed their decline, allowing much of the population its first taste of prosperity. No more liberal than his predecessor but more efficient, Putin brought the media under government control, hobbled rival political parties without eliminating elections, and converted Russia into the “imitation democracy” that Western observers deplore. Few influential Russians, Putin included, pine for the old Soviet Union. The sole exception is its superpower status, whose loss rankles, and Wood believes that America’s greatest mistake was rubbing their nose in it by expanding NATO into Eastern Europe and meddling in areas like Ukraine and Georgia, Russia’s backyard. The amenable Yeltsin complained bitterly, and Putin’s push back—e.g., the annexation of Crimea—was popular at home. Wood concludes that Putin has no great ambition except to stay in power and that successors will demonstrate the same patriotic fervor and deal with the same internal problems and dependence on oil prices that vex Putin.

Discouraging but insightful.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-78873-124-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Verso

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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