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THE GREAT EXPERIMENT

WHY DIVERSE DEMOCRACIES FALL APART AND HOW THEY CAN ENDURE

A thoughtful, timely defense of the ideal of a participatory, open society.

A well-considered examination of current threats to democratic societies and how to resist them.

Mounk, a professor of international affairs and contributing editor at the Atlantic, traces the connection between the Founders’ idea of a self-governing republic and the modern ideal of a democracy that protects diverse members of society, majority and minority alike. There are internal tensions everywhere. “The very logic of self-government, with its constant imperative to cobble together a majority of like-minded voters,” writes the author, “makes it tempting for citizens to exclude those they regard as different from full participation in their polity.” Diversity yields conflict, especially in times when identity politics come to the fore. Many Italians, for example, might say that an Italian’s distant ancestors lived in Italy, excluding African and Asian immigrants from any possibility of joining the polity. Mounk allows that immigration is a vexing challenge to European and North American societies, especially when so many politicians decry Islam as being fundamentally incompatible with Western ideals even if most Muslim immigrants wholly support the democratic tenets of their new homes. It will take considerable goodwill to do so, but, Mounk insists, “people drawn from different ethnic and cultural groups can, without needing to give up their own identities, embark on a meaningfully shared life.” Enemies of such a view are legion, of course, and even the best-intentioned among us “are hardwired to form groups” that exclude those who are in some way not like us. Democracies that have failed, such as Lebanon, have devolved into “consociational” societies in which identity politics are everything: Sunni vs. Shia, Muslim vs. Christian. Understandably, nationalism then thrives, the lifeblood of demagogues like Putin and Trump. To counter them, Mounk encourages the development of “civic patriotism” and firmer commitment to democratic ideals, from battling terrorism to providing equal access to “key services like quality health care or core entitlements like paid family leave.”

A thoughtful, timely defense of the ideal of a participatory, open society.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-29681-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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POVERTY, BY AMERICA

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

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A thoughtful program for eradicating poverty from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted.

“America’s poverty is not for lack of resources,” writes Desmond. “We lack something else.” That something else is compassion, in part, but it’s also the lack of a social system that insists that everyone pull their weight—and that includes the corporations and wealthy individuals who, the IRS estimates, get away without paying upward of $1 trillion per year. Desmond, who grew up in modest circumstances and suffered poverty in young adulthood, points to the deleterious effects of being poor—among countless others, the precarity of health care and housing (with no meaningful controls on rent), lack of transportation, the constant threat of losing one’s job due to illness, and the need to care for dependent children. It does not help, Desmond adds, that so few working people are represented by unions or that Black Americans, even those who have followed the “three rules” (graduate from high school, get a full-time job, wait until marriage to have children), are far likelier to be poor than their White compatriots. Furthermore, so many full-time jobs are being recast as contracted, fire-at-will gigs, “not a break from the norm as much as an extension of it, a continuation of corporations finding new ways to limit their obligations to workers.” By Desmond’s reckoning, besides amending these conditions, it would not take a miracle to eliminate poverty: about $177 billion, which would help end hunger and homelessness and “make immense headway in driving down the many agonizing correlates of poverty, like violence, sickness, and despair.” These are matters requiring systemic reform, which will in turn require Americans to elect officials who will enact that reform. And all of us, the author urges, must become “poverty abolitionists…refusing to live as unwitting enemies of the poor.” Fortune 500 CEOs won’t like Desmond’s message for rewriting the social contract—which is precisely the point.

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780593239919

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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