A fascinating book to be read straight through or consulted bit by bit.

NUMBERS DON'T LIE

71 STORIES TO HELP US UNDERSTAND THE MODERN WORLD

An assembly of short, numbers-based investigations into important questions of the day.

“My goal is to demonstrate not only that numbers do not lie, but to discover which truth they convey,” writes Smil of this tidy, entertaining collection of brief inquiries into a host of hot-button topics: vaccinations, the malleability of unemployment figures, the consequences of diesel fuel, the fossil fuels behind wind turbines, the environmental impact of cars and cellphones, and the realities of Brexit. Regarding the last, the author writes that the U.K. has become “another has-been power whose claim to uniqueness rests on having too many troubled princes and on exporting costumed TV series set in fading country mansions staffed with too many servants.” Some of the more lighthearted material—e.g., the surprising number of benefits that tall people enjoy—help take the sting out of the more formidable issues: why replacing kerosene with biofuels to power our airplanes would require the planting of 125 million hectares with soybeans; the ubiquity of synthetic fertilizer, without which more than 3 billion people could go hungry; the glacially slow pace of alternative energy. Though all of Smil’s subjects—from the “zoomass” of cows to the physics of triple-paned windows to the manual labor required to build the pyramids—are situated firmly within the realms of math and science, with plenty of kilonewtons and exajoules, the author also slips in cogent discussions of other relevant current-affairs topics, including the flawed yet enduring concept of American exceptionalism: “Politicians may look far and wide for evidence of [it], but they won’t find it in the numbers, where it matters.” Throughout, Smil’s viewpoint is balanced, and each element of the text is fully backed by research as well as the author’s contagious curiosity. Even when examining dire circumstances, Smil keeps readers engaged.

A fascinating book to be read straight through or consulted bit by bit.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313622-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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A lively and thoughtful memoir that, one hopes, will inspire readers to pursue activism in every realm of society.

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PERSIST

The Massachusetts senator and financial reformer recounts several of her good fights over the years.

Famous for being chided for “persisting” on the Senate floor, Warren is nearly a byword for the application of an unbending, if usually polite, feminism to the corridors of power. Though she has a schoolmarm-ish air—and indeed taught school for much of her life—she gladly owns up to liking a beer or two and enjoying a good brawl, and she’s a scrapper with a long memory. In 2008, when she shopped a proposal to found a federal agency that “could act as a watchdog to make sure that consumers weren’t getting cheated by financial institutions,” she encountered a congressman who “laughed in my face.” She doesn’t reveal his name, but you can bet he crosses the hall when she’s coming the other way. Warren does name other names, especially Donald Trump, who, with Republicans on the Hill, accomplished only one thing, namely “a $2 trillion tax cut that mostly benefited rich people.” Now that the Democrats are in power, the author reckons that the time is ripe to shake off the Trump debacle and build “a nation that works, not just for the rich and powerful but for everyone.” She identifies numerous areas that need immediate attention, from financial reform to bringing more women into the workplace and mandating equal pay for equal work. Warren premises some of these changes on increased taxes on the rich, happily citing a billionaire well known for insider trading, who complained of her, “This is the fucking American dream she is shitting on.” The author reverts to form: “Oh dear. Did I hit a nerve?” Warren’s common-sensical proposals on housing, infrastructure development, and civil rights merit attention, and her book makes for a sometimes-funny, sometimes–sharp-tongued pleasure.

A lively and thoughtful memoir that, one hopes, will inspire readers to pursue activism in every realm of society.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-79924-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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