A well-written theoretical look at the difficulties of postmodern government.

Sane Polity


This fourth book by independent scholar and former member of the U.S. Foreign Service Ophuls expresses the author’s ideal vision of contemporary politics.

Political scientist Ophuls attempts to outline a rational view of nation-state politics based on the writings of thinkers such as philosopher Edmund Burke, economist John Maynard Keynes and President Thomas Jefferson. “By orienting civilization toward nonmaterial ends—toward making souls instead of consumers—we can become fully human within the bonds set by nature,” Ophuls writes. The author lays out, in 35 very brief essays, how a pattern language of polity—that is, good design criteria for a nation-state—might look with great specificity, although he doesn’t go into great detail about why they meet his standards; he also doesn’t fully develop a nature metaphor he introduces early on. That said, the author’s ideas, written in thoughtful and sometimes trenchant prose, often prove surprising: “[H]ypocrisy is the vice,” Ophuls writes, “that, in paying tribute to virtue, actually supports morality.” His support of limited government and individual liberties may seem to indicate libertarian leanings, but such a judgment might be shortsighted, given this scholarly book’s complex textures; he cautions that liberty is not license and argues for small but powerful government that can operate in limited but effective ways. Not content to stick with democratic institutions, Ophuls recommends that a nation-state should be run by a wise council of elders, who can rely on “mandarins” to carry out its dictates. People, the author argues, are a mixture of devil and angel; the only way to overcome human nature is through prudence and by taking a long view of state affairs. As he makes his arguments, Ophuls is at home quoting ecologist Wendell Berry and psychologist Carl Jung; the breadth of his sources, as well as his political schema, makes for an engaging, deep reading experience.

A well-written theoretical look at the difficulties of postmodern government.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-1480073166

Page Count: 132

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2013

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: yesterday

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A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.


Bestselling author Haig offers a book’s worth of apothegms to serve as guides to issues ranging from disquietude to self-acceptance.

Like many collections of this sort—terse snippets of advice, from the everyday to the cosmic—some parts will hit home with surprising insight, some will feel like old hat, and others will come across as disposable or incomprehensible. Years ago, Haig experienced an extended period of suicidal depression, so he comes at many of these topics—pain, hope, self-worth, contentment—from a hard-won perspective. This makes some of the material worthy of a second look, even when it feels runic or contrary to experience. The author’s words are instigations, hopeful first steps toward illumination. Most chapters are only a few sentences long, the longest running for three pages. Much is left unsaid and left up to readers to dissect. On being lost, Haig recounts an episode with his father when they got turned around in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was correct, a bit of wisdom Haig turned to during his depression when he focused on moving forward: “It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.” Many aphorisms sound right, if hardly groundbreaking—e.g., a quick route to happiness is making someone else happy; “No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having space you need to live”; “External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our mind.” Haig’s fans may enjoy this one, but others should take a pass.

A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313666-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Life

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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