A well-written, mostly engrossing tale of thwarted amateur treason underscoring the disturbing vulnerability of today’s...

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THE SPY WHO COULDN'T SPELL

A DYSLEXIC TRAITOR, AN UNBREAKABLE CODE, AND THE FBI'S HUNT FOR AMERICA'S STOLEN SECRETS

The account of an eccentric would-be traitor who executed a large-scale heist of American military secrets.

In his debut book, Science staff writer Bhattacharjee focuses on cryptographic science and the doggedness of investigators involved in the improbable story of Brian Regan, an embittered Air Force security specialist who decided to pad his retirement by offering classified intelligence to Libya. Although an informant contacted the FBI, Regan had constructed a complex scheme using encrypted ciphers to hide his identity. As the author notes, “Lifting that veil of anonymity was going to be a daunting task.” Bhattacharjee reconstructs Regan’s suburban childhood to discern the roots for his moral lapse; he notes Regan, suffering from dyslexia, was mocked by peers for appearing simultaneously dense and clever, a lifelong pattern persisting through his one-man conspiracy. The author offers a compellingly seedy portrait of Regan, motivated to contemplate treason due to debt, career stagnation, and marital malaise. “As long as he could get away with it, espionage was a legitimate answer to his troubles,” the author concludes. Relying on extensive research and interviews, Bhattacharjee re-creates Regan’s brazen acquisition of bulk intelligence and cinematically documents his pursuit by Steven Carr, a driven FBI agent, with exciting tradecraft set pieces of surveillance and covert entries. But the narrative’s pace slackens halfway through, when Carr apprehends Regan in 2001 prior to an overseas trip to solicit Iraqi or Chinese spy agencies. The author focuses on the details of the government’s aggressive prosecution as well as Regan’s use of cryptography in his audacious fail-safe: he’d buried classified documents in various state parks. However, this negotiating tactic only hardened the government’s resolve, in keeping with the post–9/11 national mood; ultimately, Regan was convicted of attempted espionage and received a life sentence. In exchange for consideration for his family, Regan helped retrieve his caches, resulting in dark comedy when he was initially unable to decipher his own cryptographic clues.

A well-written, mostly engrossing tale of thwarted amateur treason underscoring the disturbing vulnerability of today’s intelligence systems.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59240-900-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: New American Library

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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