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Sunday, May 1, 2022
These are basically leftovers from my April 3 Book Roundup. That one was the first in nearly a year (since April 18, 2021), so I made an effort to pick out the most important books, and I was able to pad the usual 40 entries out with a lot of related books. I even had, from my own reading, seven book cover pics I could share. On the other hand, I haven't read any of the books below. Some interest me. Some repulse me. I think it's worth knowing that the others exist.
Randall Balmer: Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right (2021, Eerdmans): Short (141 pp), but makes a simple point: that the political engagement of right-wing evangelicals was a response not to Roe v. Wade (abortion), but to Green v. Connally, a ruling that threatened the tax-exempt status of racially discriminatory institutions (such as Bob Jones University, in 1976). Nor is this the first time someone has looked beneath ostensible arguments on the right to find racism underneath.
Glenn Beck/Justin Haskins: The Great Reset: Joe Biden and the Rise of Twenty-First-Century Fascism (2022, Forefront Books). Ridiculous paranoia from the TV/radio mogul, aided by Justin Haskins, identified as director of the Stopping Socialism Center at The Heartland Institute. Three chapters lay out the rationale for the "fascist" takeover of America: the pandemic, climate change, and modern monetary theory. The amusing twist is that the forces of fascism aren't the unwashed masses, but a conspiracy of "woke" globalized corporations and their coordinating groups like the World Economic Forum. Rest assured that Beck has a plan for "Derailing the Great Reset." I haven't read that far, but it probably involves buying a lot of T-shirts and mugs.
Gal Beckerman: The Quiet Before: On the Unexpected Origins of Radical Ideas (2022, Crown): Argues that "radical ideas" -- could be novel ideas or innovations, but author is explicitly thinking about social and political movements -- are best (or only) developed in "quiet, closed networks that allow a small group to incubate their ideas before broadcasting them widely." That makes for a backhanded critique of social media, where everything is exposed and damned little of it matters.
Leslie MM Blume: Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World (2020; paperback, 2021, Simon & Schuster): The journalist was John Hersey, who managed to visit Hiroshima before the US Army locked it down, and famously reported on it in The New Yorker, the essay that became the book Hiroshima. Hersey went on to become a bestselling novelist, but he wrote another classic piece of quick journalism, The Algiers Motel Incident, in 1967 on the Detroit Riot.
Ray Dalio: The Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail (2021, Simon & Schuster): Founder and cochairman of Bridgewater Associates ("the largest and best performing hedge fund in the world"), offers a sweeping history of everything, not so much to enlighten, especially not critique, but more as a betting guide for the excessively rich. Blurb list includes: Bill Gates, Henry Paulson, Mark Cuban, Jamie Dimon, as well as useful idiots like Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, and Henry Kissinger. Makes you wonder who he's conning now, to what purpose.
David M Drucker: In Trump's Shadow: The Battle for 2024 and the Future of the GOP (2021, Twelve): Instantly disposable fodder for political junkies only, trying to sort out what options Republicans have for a future when they're still stuck in their own past. Some other books assaying the Republican future:
Caroline Elkins: Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire (2022, Knopf): Big book (896 pp), but lots of blood to cover. Even before there was a British Empire, England was littered with kings and aristocrats that met violent ends, struggles between clans, and efforts by the crown to put down popular revolts. The British Empire was one long pageant of violence, against the natives they marauded and/or enslaved, against rival empires, even against their own settlers. From before the 1763 war with France through the 1964 independence of Kenya, it's unlikely there was a single year when the British weren't fighting someone somewhere. So this book seems about right. Indeed, it seems like the logical progression for a writers who started out with Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya. More on British history:
Steve Forbes/Nathan Lewis/Elizabeth Ames: Inflation: What It Is, Why It's Bad, and How to Fix It (2022, Encounter Books): File this short (168 pp) under "opposition research": a compendium of what rich Republicans are saying whenever wage workers start to get a leg up. Forbes inherited a business media empire before running for president, Lewis is a hardcore gold bug, and Ames probably wrote the book to order. One suspects the hyperbole is going to be off the charts when they start talking about "1970s's-style 'Great Inflation'" (a line coined by Robert Samuelson and rarely used by anyone else), but then they disclose that "some observers even fear a descent into the kind of Weimar-style hyperinflation that has torn apart so many nations." I'm not saying that inflation is good: it hurts some people and helps others (e.g., it allows people to pay off debts with inflated dollars, which reduces the return to the lenders. Since the former tend to be poorer than the latter, the rich scream bloody murder every time it ticks up, and plot to exact their revenge on everyone else.
Amy Fried/Douglas B Harris: At War With Government: How Conservatives Weaponized Distrust From Goldwater to Trump (2021, Columbia University Press): It's hard to live if you can't trust the people around you to behave predictably, to follow laws and rules, and show you some respect and maybe even kindness. For better or worse, most of us grew up learning to trust government to act in the public interest, but conservative Republicans have repeatedly attacked the very foundations of public trust, and it turns out much harder to restore trust than to degrade it. This matters because many of the problems we face can only be addressed as public works.
Matthew Gabriele/David M Perry: The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe (2021, Harper): Title implies a radical departure from the traditional characterization of Europe's "Dark Ages" -- one that has partly fallen out of favor as historians have tried to blur the traditional demarcation between Medieval and Renaissance, but still, this book starts around 430 CE, with the Roman Empire crumbling but not quite fallen, and they allow the Middle Ages to end around 1321. Some more recent books on medieval European history:
David Gelles: The Man Who Broke Capitalism: How Jack Welch Gutted the Heartland and Crushed the Soul of Corporate America -- and How to Undo His Legacy (2022, Simon & Schuster): During his tenure as CEO of General Electric, Welch was touted as a great business leader, an innovator even. But much of what he did was to bring back the lean-and-mean mentality of an earlier (pre-union) stage of capitalism, combined with cold analysis. I wouldn't say he "broke capitalism," but he did much to restore its bad name, and as such it's nice to see his name drug through the mud again.
Gary Gerstle: The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order: America and the World in the Free Market (2022, Oxford University Press): Big picture historian -- has previous books on American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century and Liberty and Coercion: The Paradox of American Government From the Founding to the Present -- tries to construct a "rise and fall" scenario for neoliberalism after a couple chapters on the New Deal and the managerial capitalism it produced (or allowed). It's not clear to me that neoliberalism has fallen, as the business interests that benefited from it are still very much in power, but its intellectual cachet for everyone else is in tatters.
Garrett M Graff: Watergate: A New History (2022, Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster): Big new book (832 pp) on a scandal which I suppose seems relevant again with the impeachment of Trump (twice), perhaps less so because it continues to shock than because we're starting to feel nostalgic for an era when a disgraced president resigned, in large part because his own party refused to follow lock step in the coverup. Other recent books on Nixon/Watergate:
Karen J Greenberg: Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of American Democracy From the War on Terror to Donald Trump (2021, Princeton University Press): Edited Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib, wrote The Least Worst Place (2009) on the Guantanamo gulag, summed up her worries on lawlessness in Rogue Justice (2016), so the main thing that this also incorporates is the contempt for democracy showed repeatedly by Trump and his administration.
Linda Greenhouse: Justice on the Brink: The Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Rise of Amy Coney Barrett, and Twelve Months That Transformed the Supreme Court (2021, Random House): Sure, there are a lot of books about the hypothetical demise of American democracy, but this is a case study of what seems very likely be a significant turning point. With the Supreme Court effectively packed by Republican presidents -- in two critical cases elected by the Electoral College after losing the popular vote -- and a Senate where power is seriously skewed, conservative strategists are increasingly turning toward the courts to dictate policies that lack popular support and to disrupt ones that are popular. Related:
Jane Harman: Insanity Defense: Why Our Failure to Confront Hard National Security Problems Makes Us Less Safe (2021, St Martin's Press): Former US Representative (D-CA), ranking member of House Intelligence Commitee, supported Bush's Iraq war, "served on advisory boards for the CIA, Director of National Intelligence, and the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and State."
Kyle Harper: Plagues Upon the Earth: Disease and the Course of Human History (2021, Princeton University Press): "A sweeping germ's eye view of history from human origins to global pandemics." Big subject, even for 704 pp., with the development of agriculture, the increasing population density of cities, and the migration of people and their animals (and their germs) to new territories playing major roles.
Katja Hoyer: Blood and Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German Empire, 1871-1918 (2021, Pegasus): Surprisingly short (272 pp) for a story that comprises so many wars (albeit brief ones until the big loss of 1914-18), a madcap stab at colonial empire building in Africa and the Pacific, and the legal and bureaucratic innovations of perhaps the most famous political figure of the 19th century, Otto von Bismarck.
Ian Ona Johnson: Faustian Bargain: The Soviet-German Partnership and the Origins of the Second World War (2021, Oxford University Press): My first thought was that this was about the 1939 "pact" between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union which defined a partition of Poland, allowing Germany to grab most of Poland without risking a deeper war with Russia (which got German permission to do some grabbing itself, which turned out badly for Stalin both coming and going). But the book focuses more on an earlier "bargain" between Imperial Germany and the Bolsheviks, which led to the Russian Revolution, and subsequent armistice which ceded much Russian territory to Germany, as well as ending the two-front war Germany was fighting. Evidently, German-Soviet cooperation didn't end there, although I'm a little sketchy on the details.
Jonathan M Katz: Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America's Empire (2021, St Martin's Press): Butler was "the most celebrated warfighter of his time" -- from the Spanish War of 1898, the Philippines, the "gunboat diplomacy" occupations of Nicaragua and Haiti, up to the eve of WWII -- but he's better known for book he wrote about his experiences, called War Is a Racket.
Chuck Klosterman: The Nineties: A Book (2022, Penguin Press): Born in 1972, so I imagine he relates to the 1990s rather like I did to the 1970s, when everything seemed new and full of opportunity. The two decades are similar (yet distinct from earlier and later decades) in a couple respects: they offered relatively liberal interludes between wars (Vietnam into the 1970s, the Cold War into the 1990s) and later reaction/remilitarization (Reagan in the 1980s, Bush in the 2000s). While I was young enough to enjoy parts of the 1990s, it rather seems like a wasted decade now, and one I feel no nostalgia for. (Seth Myers, does a bit I find incongruous called "In My Time," where he waxes nostalgic for artifacts of his youth, which turn out to be from the 1990s. He was born in 1973.) Klosterman wrote his first book on glam metal (which suggests that at root he's a fellow rock critic; even if we don't like the same shit, it's a style thang), and followed that up with a couple novels and several essay collections, so this may be his bed for a magnum opus. Or it may just be a scrapbook, a bunch of things he lived through and thought were neat at the time. Some other Klosterman books:
Elizabeth Kolbert: Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future (2021, Crown): New Yorker writer, wrote Field Notes From a Catastrophe (about climate change) and The Sixth Extinction (about how humans, not just through climate change, have decimated the biosphere). When I was young, the last 10,000 years of geological history was called the Recent, but the more common terms these days is the Anthropocene, where nature reflects the many changes wrought by human beings. Three essays: "Down the River," "Into the Wild," "Up in the Air."
Robert Kuttner: Going Big: FDR's Legacy, Biden's New Deal, and the Struggle to Save Democracy (2022, New Press). Short (192 pp), meant to flatter Biden, to lift him to the stature needs demand, or at least to suggest the possibility. Kuttner has written a number of big books on politics and the economy -- the one I was most impressed with was The Squandering of America: How the Failure of Our Politics Undermines Our Prosperity (2007) -- but this is more reminiscent of his quickie, Obama's Challenge: America's Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency. Stripped of hope, today we're left with his 7th chapter, "Obama's Missed Moment." That leaves "America's Last Chance" as chapter 8. Here's hoping that optimism is contagious.
Christopher Leonard: The Lords of Easy Money: How the Federal Reserve Broke the American Economy (2022, Simon & Schuster): Business reporter, previously wrote The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business (2014), and Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America (2019). His critique of the Fed echoes points more commonly aired on the right (Republicans have always railed against quantitative easing), but a core problem with depending on the Fed to regulate the economy is that their only real tool to simulate the economy is their ability to push money out to banks, who are then more likely to bid up assets than to make productive investments. Conversely, the Fed's only tool for fighting inflation is to raise interest rates (i.e., to inflate the cost of borrowing), in the hope that the resulting constriction will put people out of work, depress consumer demand, and eventually affect prices. Still, I've always assumed that a growing economy is better than a strangled one (as was the case 1979-82), so I figured quantitative easing must have been a good thing. But unwinding it may pose new problems. Also on the Fed:
Mark R Levin: American Marxism (2021, Threshold Editions): Fox News star, has a bunch of bestselling, crowd-pleasing books. I'd be interested in a book on this subject, but not from this clown. Tell me more about Paul Sweezy, Eugene Genovese, Paul Piccone. But these titles are just exercises in confusion: "Hate America, Inc."; "Racism, Genderism, and Marxism"; "'Climate Change' Fanaticism."
Jonathan Levy: Ages of American Capitalism: A History of the United States (2021, Random House): Big (944 pp) single-volume history of America, its division into "ages" of: commerce (1660-1860), capital (1860-1932), control (1932-80), and chaos (1980-). The terms are somewhat arbitrary -- "control" and "chaos" refers to the role of the state in the economy, with increasing regulation stailizing a broader affluence, and decreasing regulation fracturing into greater inequality. "Commerce" and "capital" are covers for mercantilism and industrialization, with the shift from bonded- to wage-slavery, with capital accumulating as machines scaled up surplus value. But the periods precisely line up with my political era scheme, aside from combining the Jefferson-to-Buchanan era with its mostly colonial prehistory, because Jefferson's "second revolution" did little to alter the economy -- other than opening up the western frontier for expansion, a distinctive aspect of American capitalism, but not a new direction (after all, gobbling up native land was central from the start). One question the periodization raises is whether the political shifts were consequences of economic changes, or vice versa.
Eugene Linden: Fire and Flood: A People's History of Climate Change, From 1979 to the Present (2022, Penguin Press): This covers a fairly short period of time (not much more than 40 years), yet people today are more likely to be surprised by how much was known that far back, given how little we tried to do about it. Sections run decade by decade, examining each on its own scale: the reality of climate change; the scientific consensus about it; public opinion and political will; and business and finance. Linden previously wrote:
Nesrine Malik: We Need New Stories: The Myths That Subvert Freedom (2021, WW Norton): Chapter titles enumerate six myths: the Reliable Narrator, a Political Correctness Crisis, the Free Speech Crisis, Harmful Identify Politics, National Exceptionalism, Gender Equality. These are myths that have taken up residence in the minds of the right, filling them with fear and loathing.
Alfred W McCoy: To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change (2021, Haymarket Books): Longtime critic of America's empire, with pathbreaking coverage of The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia and a major book on the Philippines (Policing America's Empire), among much more. Goes deep into history here, starting around 1300 and looking forward to 2300 (two chapters after "Pax Americana" are on China and climate change). For someone supposedly critical of American power, he seems oddly stuck in the notion that someone has to order the world.
Heather McGhee: The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together (2021, One World): An "expert in economic and social policy," "former president of the inequality-focused think tank Demos," "now chairs the board of Color of Change, the nation's largest online racial justice organization." The obvious subject here is to try to quantify the social and economic costs of racism, including "for white people, too." That seems intuitively obvious, but clearly some people need it spelled out. One step is to explain "that life can be more than a zero-sum game." I wonder whether she goes further and explains that racism is a negative-sum game: one where one person's losses don't accrue to any other person; they're just wasted.
Sean McMeekin: Stalin's War: A New History of World War II (2021, Basic Books): Long (864 pp.), claims "Stalin -- not Hitler -- was the animating force of World War II." Which is totally wrong, as he seems to be reconstructing through Cold War prejudices. He even goes so far as to credit Stalin with nudging Japan into bombing Pearl Harbor, "unleashing a devastating war of attrition between Japan and the 'Anglo-Saxon' capitalist powers he viewed as his ultimate adversary." The result is one of the most distorted and deranged readings of history since, well, McMeekin's own The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (2015).
J David McSwane: Pandemic, Inc.: Chasing the Capitalists and Thieves Who Got Rich While We Got Sick (2022, Atria/One Signal): ProPublica writer, follows the money (over $10 billion). "I have resisted the notion that capitalism itself is to blame for all of this." But isn't capitalism the system that ensures that whatever customers (in this case the government) are willing to spend will be sucked up by one firm or another, fraudulent or not? Good regulation, including transparency, may make the market more efficient and/or effective, but the isn't the drive to corrupt deep in the genes? And isn't it obvious that a political system built on, by, and for private money, is going to be easy pickings?
Neel Mehta/Adi Agashe/Parth Detroja: Bubble or Revolution? The Present and Future of Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies (paperback, 2019, Paravane Ventures): My attitude toward cryptocurrency is fundamentally hostile: on the one hand, I'm annoyed that such a thing (or whatever it is?) even exists (or is even imagined to?); on the other, I suspect that everyone associated with it is up to no good. Of course, on a conceptual level, the same things can be said about money -- and one need hardly look beyond Wall Street to find copious examples it it being used for no good. But conventional money has proven to be very useful, even essential: without it, everything would have to be continuously revalued according to everything else, and little else would get done. But if conventional money works find, why invent crypto? One possibility is that it provides a means for criminals to transfer funds without alerting the government. Another is that it gives rich people something more they can speculate on. Maybe there are other uses, and other angles to be considered. Kim Stanley Robinson, in The Ministry for the Future, seems to regard blockchain as useful for limiting the ills of finance. I don't understand how he thinks that, and have little interest in figuring it out, but there's enough crap going around about cryptocurrency I figured I could collect a book list (looking for general books, and ignoring virtually everything that seems to be pitched toward investors).
Ethan Michaeli: Twelve Tribes: Promise and Peril in the New Israel (2021, Custom House): I read another book some time ago (possibly Richard Ben Cramer's How Israel Lost: The Four Questions) that broke Israeli Jews down into six or so groups, suggesting that one reason they never seriously tried to defuse the conflict with Palestinians was that a common enemy was the only thing that held them together. Further division echoing the biblical twelve shouldn't be too hard. I often look at Amazon reviews to get a sense of a book. Here I found a rare case where a 1-star review made the book seem more interesting (usually they just reveal the reviewer to be a moron): "Stay away from this book unless you like reading about falafel and Israeli salad under the disguise of a pseudo existential interpretation of contemporary Israeli society." But isn't breaking bread together a good way to get to know others? And that reminds me that Cramer had a whole section on Israeli "white meat" (pork, from pigs who spend their lives on platforms so their feet never touch Israeli soil). More on Israel/Palestine:
Moisés Naím: The Revenge of Power: How Autocrats Are Reinventing Politics for the 21st Century (2022, St Martin's Press): Wrote The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be (2013), which argued that power has intrinsic limits, especially a dependence on competent followers. Here he seems to be backtracking (not that he approves). The interrim has seen a number of autocrats rise to greater power, but how stable are they really?
Evan Osnos: Wildland: The Making of America's Fury (2021, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Former China correspondent, subject of his first book, wrote a big biography of Joe Biden for his second (one of a mere handful of 2020 campaign books on Biden, compared to many hundreds on Trump). This is more like a memoir, an attempt to make some sense of what happened to America between Sept. 11, 2001 and Jan. 6, 2021 ("two assults on the country's sense of itself").
Richard Overy: Blood and Ruins: The Last Imperial War, 1931-1945 (2022, Viking): British military historian, dates WWII from the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, rather than waiting for Germany to invade Poland (1939) or for Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor (1941). Big subject, big book (1040 pp). One thing that is poorly remembered today is that the World Wars were fought (initially, anyway) by nations that believed empire was a supreme good, one they sought to expand. (The US and the Soviet Union were less interested in territory, and more into the slightly nebulous notion of hegemony.)
Gideon Rachman: The Age of the Strongman: How the Cult of the Leader Threatens Democracy Around the World (2022, Other Press): The list seems ominous enough: Putin, Trump, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Orban, Xi. But aside from Xi, how successful have they been? We seem to be riding a stronger authoritarian wave than we've seen since the 1930s (and how did that turn out?). But aside from Xi, everyone on the list got elected in something like a fair democratic election -- not that they haven't tried to use their power to lock themselves in and their opponents out. Their skill seems to have been the ability to sell bigotry to the masses while garnering support from the rich -- which is basically the definition Robert Paxton came up with in The Anatomy of Fascism. But fascists in the 1930s used their charisma to strengthen state power, whereas today's "strongmen" tend to weaken the state (except for repressive political purposes), shifting real power to a private sector that is primarily motivated by greed. It's hard to see them remaining viable enough to last, but like a vermin infestation they may be hard to clear out. Rachman previously wrote:
Matthew Rose: A World After Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right (2021, Yale University Press): Short (208 pp) survey of five "thinkers": Oswald Spengler ("The Prophet"), Julius Evola ("The Fantasist"); Francis Parker Yockey ("The Anti-Semite"); Alain de Benoist ("The Pagan"); Samuel Francis ("The Nationalist"); with a final chapter on "The Christian Question." Might seem more important if there was more evidence of thinking on the right, at least among the supposedly literate talking heads.
Gordon S Wood: Power and Liberty: Constitutionalism in the American Revolution (2021, Oxford University Press): Author of The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (1969), which I've long regarded as the standard book on the politics of the American Revolution. This is a set of lectures on the idea of constitutionalism during the Revolution, a subject no one knows better.
Jia Lynn Yang: One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle Over American Immigration, 1924-1965 (2020; paperback, 2021, WW Norton): Covers a period cleanly defined by two immigration laws: the 1924 law extended racial exclusions and established a quota system which discriminated against countries that had provided most immigrants over the previous 30 years (notably Italy, Poland, and Russia, effectively ending Jewish immigration); and the 1965 law which ended the quota system and other racial and religions bans. The 1924 law was probably the peak moment of post-Civil War racism, while 1965 coincided with major civil rights legislation: the same forces coalesced behind both, drawing on a new understanding of what the nation had fought against in WWII.
Other recent books of interest, barely noted (I may write more on some of these later).
Matthew Algeo: All This Marvelous Potential: Robert Kennedy's 1968 Tour of Appalachia (2020, Chicago Review Press).
William M Arkin: The Generals Have No Clothes: The Untold Story of Our Endless Wars (2021, Simon & Schuster).
Jung Chang: Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China (2019, Knopf).
Erwin Chemerinsky: Presumed Guilty: How the Supreme Court Empowered the Police and Subverted Civil Rights (2021, Liveright).
Joshua L Cherniss: Liberalism in Dark Times: The Liberal Ethos in the Twentieth Century (2021, Princeton University Press).
Jennet Conant: The Great Secret: The Classified World War II Disaster That Launched the War on Cancer (2020, WW Norton).
Geoff Dyer: The Last Days of Roger Federer: And Other Endings (2022, Farrar Straus and Giroux).
Erika Fatland: The Border: A Journey Around Russia Through North Korea, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway, and the Northeast Passage (2021, Pegasus Books).
Marie Favereau: The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World (2021, Belknap Press).
Jeffrey Frank: The Trials of Harry S Truman: The Extraordinary Presidency of an Ordinary Man, 1945-1953 (2022, Simon & Schuster).
John Ghazvinian: America and Iran: A History, 1720 to the Present (2021, Knopf).
Marie Gottschalk: Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics (paperback, 2016, Princeton University Press).
Jon Grinspan: The Age of Acrimony: How Americans Fought to Fix Their Democracy, 1865-1915 (2021, Bloomsbury).
Sergei Guriev/Daniel Treisman: Spin Dictators: The Changing Face of Tyranny in the 21st Century (2022, Princeton University Press).
Colin Jerolmack: Up to Heaven and Down to Hell: Fracking, Freedom, and Community in an American Town (2021, Princeton University Press).
John B Judis: The Politics of Our Time: Populism, Nationalism, Socialism (2021, Columbia Global Reports).
Robert D Kaplan: Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age (2022, Random House): Amazon review: "Lazy, superficial travelogue posing as historical insight."
Michael G Laramie: King William's War: The First Contest for North America, 1689-1697 (2017, Westholme).
Roger Lowenstein: Ways and Means: Lincoln and His Cabinet and the Financing of the Civil War (2022, Penguin Press).
Bruno Maçães: History Has Begun: The Birth of a New America (2020, Oxford University Press): Portuguese geopolitics guru, based in Istanbul, previous books The Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order and Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order.
David Mamet: Recessional: The Death of Free Speech and the Cost of a Free Lunch (2022, Broadside Books): Wide-ranging essay collection from a famous playwright and right-wing crank.
Mark Mazower: The Greek Revolution: 1821 and the Making of Modern Europe (2021, Penguin Press).
Douglas Murray: The War on the West (2022, Broadside). Thin-skinned, xenophobic right-winger claiming victimhood 500+ years after Columbus. Previously wrote:
Kathryn Olivarius: Necropolis: Disease, Power, and Capitalism in the Cotton Kingdom (2022, Belknap Press): On New Orleans, "where yellow fever epidemics killed as many as 150,000 people during the nineteenth century."
Reece Peck: Fox Populism: Branding Conservatism as Working Class (paperback, 2019, Cambridge University Press).
Nathaniel Philbrick: Travels With George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy (2021, Viking; paperback, 2022, Penguin Books).
Ari Rabin-Havt: The Fighting Soul: On the Road With Bernie Sanders (2022, Liveright): Deputy campaign manager for Sanders in 2020.
Martin Sandbu: The Economics of Belonging: A Radical Plan to Win Back the Left Behind and Achieve Prosperity for All (2020, Princeton University Press).
Vaclav Smil: Numbers Don't Lie: 71 Stories to Help Us Understand the Modern World (paperback, 2021, Penguin Books).
Ray Takeyh: The Last Shah: America, Iran, and the Fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty (2021, Yale University Press).
Nicholas Wapshott: Samuelson/Friedman: The Battle Over the Free Market (2021, WW Norton): Author previously wrote Keynes/Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics (2011).
Olivier Zunz: The Man Who Understood Democracy: The Life of Alexis de Tocqueville (2022, Princeton University Press).
Sunday, April 3, 2022
It's been a year since my last round of Book Roundups -- I posted two sets in 2021, one on April 4, the other on April 18. The format is to provide 40 one-paragraph review/blurbs, followed by an arbitrary number of one-or-zero line notices: books I felt like noting the existence of but didn't feel like writing up anything more substantial (although I may return to them later). The main section has also grown of late, ever since I started listing "related" books in a bullet list under the main reviews. These are books that might otherwise have dropped to the second section, but are more usefully grouped in the first. I used to do a section on paperback reprints of previously mentioned books, but haven't kept those listings up to date.
The Book Roundups are useful for me inasmuch as they give me a broad survey of what's recently available, and what we know about the world. I mostly follow politics, economics, and history here, because that's almost always my current reading. (It's less that that's what I'm interested in than that's what little I have time for.) The reviews eventually get stuffed into a big file. I had a reader once inquire about setting up a database for reviews like that, I expressed some interest, but he never got back to me, so it's still just an idea.
Needless to say, I've hardly read any of these books -- a more or less accurate list of what I have read is here. I mostly find these books by browsing through Amazon, reading the blurbs there, sometimes the reviews, and sometimes bits of the books ("look inside"). That, along with whatever previous information I've accumulated, gives me a rough sense of what the book is about, and what sort of angle it takes.
As with last year, I wouldn't be surprised to follow this with a second post. I have a couple dozen more reviews written, but also have accumulated a list of about 200 books in my scratch file (before adding the second section here), so I have plenty of material to work with.
I'm struck by how many of the entries below provoke thoughts about how to understand the Putin invasion of Ukraine. The big one, to which I've hung another 24 books, is ME Sarotte's book on NATO expansion, Not One Inch, where most of the books now read as obsolete, and many as totally unhinged. The following bit on Peter Schweizer's Red-Handed shows you that American misunderstanding of China is if anything even more dangerous and deranged. Still, it's pretty easy to predict that once the shooting stops in Ukraine, the result is going to look a lot like the status quo ante (aside from thousands of people killed, millions displaced, and many billions of dollars of physical damage, none of which had to happen) -- although the only prediction more certain is that none of the participants will learn the right lessons from the ordeal, mostly because they didn't ask the right questions before.
Yasmeen Abutaleb/Damian Paletta: Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration's Response to the Pandemic That Changed History (2021, Harper). Washington Post reporters, evidently had a fair degree of inside access to the White House and its "toxic environment of blame, sycophancy, and political pressure" -- very characteristic of the president himself, whose concerns never went beyond appearances, and whose instincts were almost always wrong. The result was that the US response to the pandemic was the worst, at least in terms of outcomes, of any large/wealthy nation anywhere, but he left the entire issue so politically polarized that his idiocy continued to plague the nation a year later. We're starting to see books on various aspects of the pandemic, like these:
Spencer Ackerman: Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump (2021, Viking). I don't doubt that the War on Terror has taken a tragic toll on the nation's psyche, both in its leaders' blind faith in the efficacy of force and the sense of superiority possession of such terrible firepower has engendered. On the other hand, that the author could see Trump as the endpoint of such rot and degradation suggests a lack of imagination. Or perhaps it only reflects what a disaster Trump's election and administration was.
Kai Bird: The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter (2021, Crown): Big book (784 pp), a major attempt to provide a fresh reading on an often-maligned one-term president -- in my division of US history into eras I group him with Buchanan, Hoover, and Trump among the dead-ends opposite Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan -- by a skilled writer who's never stooped to routine political biography before. With one exception, his books have dealt with security cases: Robert Oppenheimer, McGeorge and William Bundy, John J McCloy, Robert Ames. The exception is Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978, a memoir from growing up there -- his father was a US Foreign Service Officer, so he also has Beirut, Dhahran, Cairo, and Mumbai experiences -- expanded into a sharp history, but that may have drawn him to Carter. It's often said that the New Deal/Great Society model had run its course by 1980, and Americans were hungry for some kind of change. In retrospect, it looks like Carter paved the way for Reagan, hurting him with old Democrats while unable to find a new coalition. But Carter was much smarter and much less glib than Reagan, and he had real empathy with people, who Reagan and the Repubicans treated like suckers. Whatever complaints one has about Carter as president, it's clear that he's been a remarkable ex-president -- a credit to a country that has too few of them left.
Mark Bowden/Matthew Teague: The Steal: The Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election and the People Who Stopped It (2022, Atlantic Monthly Press): Bowden is a bestselling author of nonfiction thrillers like Black Hawk Down (on Somalia), Killing Pablo (drug kingpin Escobar), and The Finish (on killing Osama Bin Laden). So he wasn't an obvious journalist to expose Trump's efforts to deny and steal victory after losing the 2020 election, but he can be counted on to bring breathless energy to the subject. Trump's scheming to overturn the 2021 election, including his call to Washington on January 6 to storm the Capitol, has produced yet another wave of Trump books, along with a few more latecomers:
Andrew Cockburn: The Spoils of War: Power, Profit and the American War Machine (2021, Verso): Back in (and slightly before) WWII, the US military directed private companies to build weapons, and paid them handsomely (with a guarantee of costs +10% profit). Still, capitalism has a genius for exploiting margins, so over time the arms industries went from taking orders to dreaming up and selling products to an ever-eager defense bureaucracy, the result being Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex." Since then, it's only gotten worse, especially as the hybrid war machine scours the world for conflicts to sell into, with extra profits whenever the shooting and bombing starts.
Donald Cohen/Allen Mikaelian: The Privatization of Everything: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back (2021, New Press). It's long been argued that government-owned firms are inefficient, incompetent, and/or simply political, and that many such functions could be taken over by private firms, which were touted as so much more efficient they could save taxpayers money as well as earning a profit. This has been done hundreds, maybe thousands of times, and the track record has been abysmal, yet the onslaught of lobbyists and profiteers is relentless, and the political system is so prone to corruption that ordinary people wind up spending a lot of time fighting their scams. But rather than having to deal with them on a case-by-case basis, we need to wise up to the fundamental flaw at the root of all these plots.
Jack E Davis: The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea (paperback, 2018, Liveright): Environmental historian takes a broad and deep look at the Gulf of Mexico, starting 150 million years ago, but mostly since 1513, and most of that since 1945. Won a Pulitzer Prize.
Mike Davis/Jon Wiener: Set the Night on Fire: LA in the Sixties (2020, Verso): Big book (800 pp). Davis has written many, wide-ranging books, including a previous one on Los Angeles, City of Quartz (1990), and Planet of Slums (2006). Wiener has written a number of books, including Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files (2000), and How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey Across America (2012). The new book focuses on social and political movements in the 1960s. Both authors are in their upper 70s, and have slowed down. Chances are they see this book as where their careers have been heading.
Alan Dershowitz: Cancel Culture: The Latest Attack on Free Speech and Due Process (2020, Hot Books): Famously liberal Democrat, but always willing to lend a helping hand to rapists and murderers, as long as they're filthy rich. Consequently, the blurbs here skew a bit to the right: Steve Forbes: "Alan Dershowitz is a living profile in courage." Benjamin Netanyahu: "The truth has no greater defender than Alan Dershowitz." Ted Cruz: "Courage and principle are rare today. Professor Dershowitz has them both." But "cancel culture" isn't about free speech. It's about power, and how much the powerful whine when someone questions their judgment. First time I heard the phrase was from Ivanka Trump, who somehow wangled an invite to speak at a Wichita State University commencement, then got disinvited when nearly everyone who heard about it said, "what the fuck?" Let's face it, no one gets "canceled" unless they got scheduled in the first place. Also (later):
Joseph Fishkin/William E Forbath: The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution: Reconstructing the Economic Foundations of American Democracy (2022, Harvard University Press): A substantial effort (640 pp) not just to re-examine the US Constitution as an effort to limit oligarchy, but also reviewing the major progressive moments in American history (including Reconstruction, the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the Great Society, and a final chapter on "Building a Democracy of Opportunity Today." The founders have taken a beating recently, both from the mythmaking "originalists" and from critics of their repeated failures to challenge racism, but within limits at key junctures the best (and best-remembered) of them opposed conservative impulses to harden the stratas of inequality. Also by the authors:
Catherine Coleman Flowers: Waste: One Woman's Fight Against America's Dirty Secret (2020; paperback, 2022, New Press): The single most effective public health measure US government has taken, by far, has been the construction of modern sewage systems, but evidently they haven't been built everywhere, and you won't need many guesses as to which people and places got left out. The author grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, and this is the story of her fight to get help there, and elsewhere.
Lily Geismer: Left Behind: The Democrats' Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality (2022, Public Affairs): "The 40-year history of how Democrats chose political opportunity over addressing inequality -- and how the poor have paid the price." Actually, not just the poor: the so-called middle class has gotten hit pretty hard as well (debt for college has been a major factor there, as has the loss of unions and the consequent loss of jobs). Geismer is correct that Democrats have been complicit in this -- especially the New Democrats who supported Clinton and Gore, but also politicians who went with their flow like Obama, Cuomo, and Rahm Emmanuel. So while Republicans wholeheartedly plotted to pump up the rich, they could also point to Democrats as corrupt elitists, out of touch with the downtrodden working class (at least the white part). Those Democrats can point to higher rates of growth under their administrations, but by overlooking equity, they've weakened their own political base -- perhaps fatally, had Republicans not been working so hard to represent themselves a public menaces, a threat so dire that Democrats could count on votes from people they almost never paid any attention to. I suspect that the worst of this wasn't what Democrats actually did but how they tacitly legitimized concerns and approaches that Republicans claimed for purely tactical reasons (e.g., market-oriented carbon trading credits, or the sloppy patchwork reform that came to be known as Obamacare).
Amitav Ghosh: The Nutmeg's Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis (2021, University of Chicago Press): Indian novelist and essayist, originally from Kolkata, Ph.D from Oxford, lives in New York. His novels are historical, exploring stories related to colonialism, with several set around Britain's Opium War with China. He has a recent essay collection called The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2017), and ties many of his interests together here, starting with the Dutch slaughter of natives to corner the nutmeg trade, extending to today's climate crisis, with much emphasis on wisdom native peoples have despite (or because of) being trampled in the mad rush to empire.
Peter S Goodman: Davos Man: How the Billionaires Devoured the World (2022, Custom House): New York Times global economics correspondent, previously wrote Past Due: The End of Easy Money and the Renewal of the American Economy (2009), which was about more than the "masters of the universe" as the economy collapsed. This time he singles out five "Davos men" (defined as "a member of the global billionaire class," named for the ritzy resort "where the species is known to gather annually to cleanse its reputation"), but realizes you can't understand their significance without looking at the devastation they leave behind. I suppose one could complain that the anointed five are famous Americans (Jeff Bezos, Stephen Schwarzman, Larry Fink, Jamie Dimon, Marc Benioff) but the species is truly global, as are their victims.
David Graeber/David Wengrow: The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity (2021, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Major project, posthumous for Graeber, a famous anthropologist and political activist -- Debt: The First 5,000 Years is his major work -- co-written with the British archaeologist, reviews much of the factual record around the early development of agriculture, cities, states, and classes, finding many bones to pick with previous popularizers of the age, but mostly concluding that anything is possible, and nothing is inevitable. I've cited most of Graeber's books, at least since Debt (2011), but here are ones I missed:
Nikole Hannah-Jones: The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (2021, One World): Eighteen essays exploring the not just the history of slavery but its lasting legacy, combined with 36 poems and works of fiction "illuminating key moments of oppression, struggle, and resistance," and an archive of photographs. As history it may go a bit overboard into alternative mythmaking, but the right had already seized on this book as the one they most wanted to make sure young people in America won't get exposed to. And it's not because they don't want young people to be made to feel bad for being Americans. It's because they recognize how little they have done to overcome slavery's legacy, and fear that young people will blame them for their inaction. I'm reminded of how older Germans never talked about Nazism and the Holocaust after 1945, but in the 1960s a new generation of postwar babies grew up and learned to face the past, largely because they were never part of it. That could happen here, but not if the vested political interests of the right have any say.
Jason Hickel: Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World (2021, paperback, Windmill Books): Capitalism demands infinite growth, but nothing can continue infinitely, so the real question is when and how those expectations break down. Add this to the growing literature on ecological limits and post-capitalism. Other books:
Elizabeth Hinton: America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s (2021, Liveright): The "race riots" of the 1960s are remembered much more than the acts of police violence that triggered many of them (and that conditioned the rest). Hinton not only surveys root causes, she shows how the "riots" can be reframed as rebellions, as acts determind to affect change. Looks like an important book, as does her previous From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (2016).
Bradley Hope/Justin Scheck: Blood and Oil: Mohammed bin Salman's Ruthless Quest for Global Power (2020, John Murray; paperback, 2021, Hachette): In recent decades, the Saudi crown has been passed through a line of elderly brothers, who took a cautious role, dishing out money to buy stability, anything to not rock the boat. That changed in 2017 when King Salman promoted his 32-year-old seventh son to Crown Prince, and gave him effective control over the government. Initially touted as a reformer, MBS is now best known for his cruel war in Yemen and for ordering the murder of critical journalist Jamal Khashoggi -- acts which have started to erode US support (although nothing Trump wasn't comfortable with). Lately, MBS has conspired with Russia to prop up oil prices, which got to be a problem with the Ukraine War. With its vase oil reserves, the Saudi dictatorship has long been a potential threat to world peace, but with MBS in control, that threat is becoming real.
Martin Indyk: Master of the Game: Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy (2021, Knopf): Hard to think of a less appealing pairing of author and subject. Kissinger did a bit of what was called "shuttle diplomacy" between Israel and various Arab states, but had nothing to show for it, which was exactly the way Israel liked it. It was not until Jimmy Carter before Israel was willing to take a deal with Egypt that basically took the risk of a future war with Arab states off the table. Kissinger's own interest rarely strayed from his Great Game with the Soviet Union -- the main effect in the Middle East was his scheme to line up Saudi Arabia and Iran as proxy partners. The former took the alliance as license to proselytize their fundamentalist brand of Islam, leading to jihadists volunteering first to fight the Soviet Union, then America. Meanwhile, close association with the Shah in Iran turned the revolution against America. Indyk is small potatoes compared to Kissinger, which may be why he's so deferential, but he was one of the Clinton people who helped wreck the Oslo Accords.
Edward-Isaac Dovere: Battle for the Soul: Inside the Democrats' Campaigns to Defeat Trump (2021, Viking): Atlantic staff writer, got stuck with covering the Democratic side of the 2020 election, and seems to be taking his bad luck out on us. You'd think that every election would produce at least one major chronicle, something following the line of tomes Theodore H White wrote for 1960, 1964, and 1968. Yet while there were tons of books published on Trump in and after 2020, including several major ones on his post-defeat shenanigans, the only other one I've noticed so far was the Jonathan Allen/Amie Parnes quickie, Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency -- the title suggesting not just that their hearts weren't into the book, but their brains weren't engaged either. This is ironic, because virtually all of the substantive policy arguments that surfaced during 2019-20 occurred within the diverse Democratic Party field. But then, after the hotly contest Iowa/New Hampshire contests were settled, making Bernie Sanders the front-runner, with Michael Bloomberg the "great white hope" of the oligarchy. When it became clear that Bloomberg had no more appeal to Democrats than Trump did, Democrats panicked and threw their personal and policy preferences aside, making Joe Biden the compromise no one wanted. Someone who cared could have mined those stories for meaning, especially compared to the superficiality of the mainstream media, but no one did. Rather, we spent the last six months of the campaign whether a majority of voters were insane enough to give Trump four more years, and hoping Biden didn't further embarrass himself. Still, with billions of dollars in play, against the unprecedented pandemic backdrop, there's a big story to be sorted out. It deserves something deeper than a cliché like "battle for the soul." Aside from Lucky (previously reported), this is all I could find (not explicitly focusing on Trump):
Fred Kaplan: The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War (paperback, 2021, Simon & Schuster): Military affairs columnist for Slate, not as hostile to the world of arms as I am, but clear-headed enough to useful -- e.g., his 2008 book Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power, which picked apart the neocon conceits (RMA, for "revolution in military affairs") led to the catastrophe in Iraq. He starts this with mention of Trump's "fire and fury" threat, then goes back to show that such thinking has been common since 1945, even if rarely exposed from a figure with so little grasp of reason and consequences. The chapter on "Madman Theories" brings to mind Nixon, who coined the term, but also Putin putting Russia's nuclear forces "on alert," in the latest gambit to fight a conventional war shielded by intimations of apocalypse. At least between Nixon and Brezhnev (or Kennedy and Krushchev) the underlying assumption was that both sides could be depended on to act rationally. It's hard to be so confident now: Putin's invasion of Ukraine is at least a species of madness; on the other hand, while Biden is much saner than Trump, what passes for sanity when "thinking about the unthinkable" is pretty shady, especially since the 1990s, when the neocons reformulated American policy to justify "preventive war" against any potential challenge to American "hyperpower." Some other books on nuclear weapons:
Michael E Mann: The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet (2021, PublicAffairs): Must it be a war? Everyone loses in war, initially by being foolish enough to think winning is possible. Mann has several books on the dangers of climate change. This one reviews how vested interests have deflected reform by an intense campaign of denial and/or deflection ("misinformation and misdirection"). You probably know that, although some sections (e.g., "It's YOUR Fault," "Put a Price on It. Or Not.") have yet to become commonplaces. Of course, he offers hope at the end. And of course, his next book will be even more dire. Many more books on climate change have appeared since my last roundup:
Louis Menand: The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War (2021, Farrar Straus and Giroux; paperback, 2022, Picador): Author won a Pulitzer for his major intellectual history of America in the late 19th century, The Metaphysical Club (2001), here tackles an even larger subject: the period from WWII to Vietnam he grew up in, one of extraordinary vigor for American industry, one which finally shrugged off the feelings of being second to Europe, yet one that was circumscribed by censorious politics. Sample line: "If you asked me when I was growing up what the most important good in life was, I would have said 'freedom.' Now I can see that freedom was the slogan of the times. The word was invoked to justify everything." I'm not sure how he winds up squaring that off, but the period is rich in material. And he does devote much of the first chapter to George Kennan, who we rarely think of as an intellectual figure but who more than anyone else set the course of the Cold War. That chapter ends with a John Adams quote: "Power always thinks it has a great Soul."
Edward S Miller: Bankrupting the Enemy: The US Financial Siege of Japan Before Pearl Harbor (2007, Naval Institute Press): I normally don't note books this old, but I hadn't noticed this one before, and it turns out to be timely. This is the story of sanctions the US imposed on Japan before the attack on Pearl Harbor -- some that I was aware of, but with more details that I didn't know. Japan had invaded and conquered Manchuria in 1929, and was fighting in eastern China from 1937 on. The US wasn't formally allied with China, but Chiang Kai-Shek (or at least his wife and her family) had important ties in the US, and that's where Roosevelt's sympathies lied. Japan had no domestic oil, and under sanctions could no longer buy oil or arms from the US, so they could either back down on the war effort, or double down on it, which for oil meant capturing Dutch Indonesia. And that's what they did, in a clear example of sanctions leading to much broader war.
Nicholas Mulder: The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War (2022, Yale University Press): History of early efforts (1914-45) to formulate economic weapons both as implements and as alternatives to war. The first iteration, of course, was Winston Churchill's blockade of Germany, by which he hoped to inflict mass starvation, thinking that might lead the German people to revolt against their leaders and sue for peace. Blockades returned with a vengeance during WWII, war so total that economic forces were decisive. In between, it was hoped that the mere threat of economic deprivation could influence the behavior of nations. It rarely, if ever, did. Another much larger book could be written to cover the post-WWII period, again redolent of folly and spitefulness, but the critical chapter on Ukraine is still unclear. Biden has promised not to engage troops, but vowed to impose he most costly sanctions ever as punishment for Russia's rogue behavior. That's certainly a saner course than escalating toward Armageddon, but will it be effective, or just another exercise in callous disregard for the people at the bottom of the political pyramid?
William Neuman: Things Are Never So Bad That They Can't Get Worse: Inside the Collapse of Venezuela (2022, St Martin's Press). I'm skeptical of anything Americans write about Venezuela, but it's also clear to me that the Chavez-Maduro regimes have made some mistakes, especially in their handling of oil resources -- e.g., they've "shared the wealth" by selling gasoline locally cheap, rather than investing the profits in things that would actually raise living standards. Neuman's bias is evident in his framework, "tragic journey from petro-riches to poverty." It's not like there was no poverty before Chavez, when the "petro-riches" belonged to foreign capital and their local lackeys. All along, Chavez and Maduro have had to struggle with those economic elites and their increasingly vicious support from the US (especially under Trump, but Biden hasn't done much different).
George Packer: Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal (2021, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Journalist, still bitterly remembered for his non-trivial role in promoting war in Iraq, has usually written more thoughtfully about American society, although I have to wonder about his conceptual skills when he tries to divide America up into four tranches: Free America ("individuals serving the interests of corporations and the wealthy"), Smart America ("the professional elite"), Real America ("the white Christian nationalism of the heartland"), and Just America ("members of identity groups that inflict or suffer oppression") -- not, of course, that he approves of such division and polarization. But if America is so afflicted, what on earth justifies the title cliché?
Jeremy W Peters: Insurgency: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted (2022, Crown): Reporting on "how did the party of Lincoln become the party of Trump?" but as he only starts with Sarah Palin, the real subject is the rise of extreme crazy in the GOP, and cutting the story off with the 2020 election leaves him a few chapters short. Previous histories of the Republican far right move tend to focus on dark money forces, and they still deserve credit and blame. But there seems to be a psychological force driving Republicans inexorably to the right, even as they prove more and more inept at solving problems. Some more recent books on the right-wing fringe (for more, especially pointing toward violence, see Barbara F Walter below):
Adrian Phillips: Fighting Churchill, Appeasing Hitler: Neville Chamberlain, Sir Horace Wilson, & Britain's Plight of Appeasement: 1937-1939 (2019, Pegasus Books): Poor Neville Chamberlain, savaged again for being a silly peacenik despite being the Prime Minister who ultimately plunged the UK into a world war it was unprepared for, which ultimately broke the bank and the empire that built it. His rival Churchill revived his career on second-guessing Chamberlain, who has remained the butt of pro-war fantasists ever since. This book is clearly partisan, faulting Chamberlain from every conceivable angle. Related:
Serhii Plokhy: Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis (2021, WW Norton): Ukrainian historian, teaches at Harvard, previous books include The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine (2015), and Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe. I've recently read several writers try to draw constructive precedents from the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), but I'm more struck by this: "more often than not, the Americans and Soviets misread each other, operated under false information, and came perilously close to nuclear catastrophe." When he writes his inevitable history of Russia's attack on Ukraine in 2022, he will likely be able to recycle that line.
Elizabeth D Samet: Looking for the Good War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness (2021, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Professor of English at West Point, has written books about teaching soldiers to read literature, like Soldier's Heart (2007), and No Man's Land (2014). I find this bizarre, but Tom Engelhardt (as steadfast a war critic as we have) praised her, and reading a few pages exploding myths about WWII (Studs Terkel's subject in The Good War) is interesting, even if she's more ambivalent than I would be.
ME Sarotte: Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate (2021, Yale University Press): Putin's invasion of Ukraine will soon be written about by many people, but those writers will have to start with the enlargement of NATO, which is the subject here. Except we now know that what it led to wasn't a stalemate, and that those who figured that Putin wouldn't do anything crazy as he was boxed in calculated badly. The backlash NATO and other attempts to flip Ukraine provoked has already caused an enormous amount of pain and suffering, and risks much greater disaster. This is as good a place as any to hang a list of other recent books on NATO, Ukraine, and Putin (including a couple books I've mentioned earlier, but have more to say about now):
Peter Schweizer: Red-Handed: How American Elites Get Rich Helping China Win (2022, Harper): Right-wing hack, started with hagiographies of Reagan and the Bush Family, has a remarkable ability to see virtue in conservatives (who "work harder, feel happier, have closer families, take fewer drugs, give more generously, value honesty more . . . and even hug their children more") and evil in liberals (one subtitle is Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy). Still, his hatred for the latter occasionally leads him to do some actual reporting -- e.g., Clinton Cash (2015), even if (as Clinton described his own welfare bill) it's "wrapped up in a sack of shit." This is another such sack, but sure, a lot of Americans have cozied up to China over the years, and some of them may well be liberals, still it's more likely that they did so not to "help China win" (whatever that means) but simply to make money -- not an exclusively liberal trait. The bigger problem is how this sort of red-baiting fits in with the arms-funded great power games that have been trying to increase tensions between the US and China (as they have between the US and Russia). Some samples (not all from the right, but you can probably figure out who's in the business of stoking this conflict):
Brendan Simms/Charlie Laderman: Hitler's American Gamble: Pearl Harbor and Germany's March to Global War (2021, Basic Books): As I understand it, Franklin Roosevelt was more desirous of entering war with Germany than with Japan, although the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, gave Roosevelt the opening he had been waiting for. Still, it was Germany that declared war first, on Dec. 11, saving Roosevelt the trouble. This book focuses on Hitler's thinking in that five-day window. Hitler and WWII remain a popular book subject. Some recent titles:
Astra Taylor: Remake the World: Essays, Reflections, Rebellions (paperback, 2021, Haymarket Books): Author of two fairly major books I read recently -- The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age (2014), and Democracy May Not Exist: But We'll Miss It When It's Gone (2019) -- with a couple of documentary movies to her credit, collects 15 substantial essays on matters that interest her, especially debt ("Wipe the Slate Clean" -- a project, the Debt Collective, that grew out of her involvement in Occupy Wall Street), but also "activism" vs. organizing, education, democracy, listening, capitalism as "The Insecurity Machine," social media ("The Dads of Tech"), automation, "Who Speaks for the Trees?" I'm often blown away by the depth of her reading, the breadth of her travels, the quality of her thinking, and her commitment to making this a better world. [PS: Looking at her Wikipedia page, I see that she was "unschooled" until entering 9th grade at 13, then "abandoned high school" at 16 to attend college classes, and did a year at Brown. Much I can relate to there, especially dropping out of high school at 16, although it took me much longer to move on, and I'll never have as much to show for my troubles.] Some other books she's involved with:
Adam Tooze: Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World's Economy (2021, Viking): Economic historian, made his reputation with The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (2007), and since then has only gotten more ambitious -- The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931 (2014) -- and more timely -- Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World (2018). This time he's first out of the gate, his book rushed out a mere year after the first virus lockdowns, so he has nothing like the decade accorded to Crashed. Still, the events were unprecedented, and revealed several cracks in prevailing neoliberal theory that had managed to withstand the 2008 collapse, so he has plenty to write about, and is likely to be as comprehensive, measured, and insightful as always.
Barbara F Walter: How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them (2022, Crown): An attempt to develop a typology of civil war genesis from dozens of recent conflicts (but not really including our own familiar Civil War, except as a data point on one of her scales). She certainly shows that the chances of civil war are higher now then they've been since the late 1960s, when we went through the upheavals and reactions over civil rights, race relations, war, and other issues. Whether that makes civil war likely now is hard to say, but a high point of the book is Walters' prescise description of the January 6 riot/insurrection. Related, including several items on white supremacists, since they seem to be the most keen on triggering violence:
Isabella M Weber: How China Escaped Shock Therapy: The Market Reform Debate (2021, Routledge): The 1980s saw much debate in both Russia and China, at least in elite circles, about economic reform, market development, and political freedom. In Russia, Gorbachev tended to look toward liberal European models, imagining a transition to a more democratic socialism. The debate in China is less known, partly due to the opaque cloaking of the ruling circles, but it's easy to imagine them looking more at Russia, but more in fear than envy. When Russia finally broke for "shock therapy," China recoiled and tightened central control, allowing markets and entrepreneurialism to develop but without political power. The results were a disastrous economic collapse in Russia, followed by a slow recovery owned by oligarchs, versus exceptionally long and strong growth in China. One suspects that a big part of recent American antipathy toward China is rooted is the fear that China may gain influence abroad by exporting their development model.
Craig Whitlock: The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War (2021, Simon & Schuster): Washington Post reporter put his name to this, but my impression is that the raw sources were compiled by the Pentagon in a fit of introspection much like their history of the Vietnam War, better known as The Pentagon Papers. The book was reported on before the US withdrew and the Taliban took over, but didn't appear until days later. It shows what some of us knew all along: that the war was destined for failure, and that the military and the politicians lied systematically to mask their failures. Some more (but not many) recent Afghanistan books:
Vladislav M Zubok: Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union (2021, Yale University Press). Supposedly a "major reinterpretation" of the Gorbachev years, starting with the death of Brezhnev and the elevation of KGB chief Yuri Andropov, who supposedly wanted to reform the Soviet system but (unlike his protege Gorbachev) would brook no dissent along the way. Describing Gorbachev's reforms as "misguided" tells us little. More telling is the charge that he "deprived the government of resources and empowered separatism." One can imagine Andropov plotting a course similar to what the Chinese actually did: economic reforms while not allowing any independent political voice. It's worth remembering that Gorbachev survived a major coup effort from prominent elements in the military and party apparatus, but fell to a second coup, this one launched from the SSR level, after Yeltsin got the leaders of Belarus and Ukraine to join him in breaking up the Soviet Union -- a coup which looked like further reform in the direction Gorbachev had already established by allowing dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, but which was actually a conservative power grab by officials in the old hierarchy. (The Baltic states, Armenia, and Georgia were already agitating for independence, and would likely break away, but in all other cases local party leaders discovered the spoils of privatizing their local fiefdoms.) This matters because nominal independence didn't threaten Russia's sense of superiority, until with Ukraine it finally did. Zubok, who teaches at the London School of Economics, previously wrote:
Other recent books of interest, barely noted (I may write more on some of these later):
Theodor W Adorno: Aspects of the New Right-Wing Extremism (paperback, 2020, Polity): Lectures, from 1967.
Anne Applebaum: Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism (2020; paperback, 2021, Anchor).
Joshua Bloom: Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party (2013; paperback, 2016, University of California Press).
Anthony Bourdain/Laurie Woolever: World Travel: An Irreverent Guide (2021, Ecco).
Ron Chernow: Grant (2017; paperback, 2018, Penguin Books): 1104 pp.
Noam Chomsky: The Precipice: Neoliberalism, the Pandemic and the Urgent Need for Radical Change (paperback, 2021, Haymarket Books): Interviews by CJ Polychroniou.
Ron Formisano: American Oligarchy: The Permanent Political Class (paperback, 2017, University of Illinois Press).
Hannah Gadsby: Ten Steps to Nanette: A Memoir (2022, Ballantine Books): Australian comedian.
Janet M Hartley: The Volga: A History of Russia's Greatest River (2021, Yale University Press).
Heather Havrilesky: Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage (2022, Ecco).
Martin Jay: Splinters in Your Eye: Essays on the Frankfurt School (paperback, 2020, Verso).
Walter Johnson: The Broken Heart of America: St Louis and the Violent History of the United States (2020, Basic Books).
Zachary Karabell: Inside Money: Brown Brothers Harriman and the Amerian Way of Power (2021, Penguin).
Amy Klobuchar: Antitrust: Taking on Monopoly Power From the Gilded Age to the Digital Age (2021, Knopf).
Elie Mystal: Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution (2022, New Press).
Nick Offerman: Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside (2021, Dutton).
Thomas Piketty: Time for Socialism: Dispatches From a World on Fire, 2016-2021 (2021, Yale University Press): Compilation of short (op-ed?) pieces.
Thomas Piketty: A Brief History of Equality (2022, Belknap Press). [04/19]
Ben Rhodes: After the Fall: Being American in the World We've Made (2021, Random House).
Donald A Ritchie: The Columnist: Leaks, Lies, and Libel in Drew Pearson's Washington (2021, Oxford University Press).
Sarah Smarsh: She Come by It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs (2020, Scribner).
Rebecca Solnit: Orwell's Roses (2021, Viking).
Elizabeth Warren: Persist (2021, Metropolitan Books): US Senator (D-MA).
Joby Warrick: Red Line: The Unraveling of Syria and America's Race to Destroy the Most Dangerous Arsenal in the World (2021, Doubleday): Syria's chemical weapons?
Alexander Zevin: Liberalism at Large: The World According to the Economist (2019, Verso Books).
Sunday, April 18, 2021
I had quite a few tabs left open when I posted my April 4 Book Roundup. I wanted to tidy them up, so I kept writing and searching and writing some more. I also had a bunch of old blurbs left over -- some going back a couple years -- that I wanted to get rid of, so in short order I wound up with enough for another Book Roundup.
In putting this together, I found a bunch of books that I should have listed under my previous Josh Rogin (China-US rivalry) and Ned and Constance Sublette (slavery) entries, so added them as PS lists to the previous column (link above). The new China list is even longer than my original, and somewhat more varied, but doesn't generally go very far back into Chinese history. (Saving that for a future entry.)
Only book here I've even started to read is Russell Cobb's on Oklahoma. Seems like I'm falling ever farther behind, but at least this exercise moves some unknown-unknowns into known-unknowns.
Götz Aly: Europe Against the Jews: 1880-1945 (2020, Metropolitan Books): Not just the Nazis, but the broader historical context of anti-semitism in which the Nazis rose to power, found strategic allies as they expanded their power over Europe, and committed their genocide.
Michael Barone: How America's Political Parties Change (And How They Don't) (2019, Encounter Books): Long-time co-author of The Almanac of American Politics (25 editions since 1971) brings his considerable expertise to the question of whether Trump's 2016 election signaled a realignment of parties. Answer seems to be not much, but note: Barone appears to be solidly ensconced on the right end of the political spectrum.
David A Bell: Men on Horseback: The Power of Charisma in the Age of Revolution (2020, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Historical sketches of revolutionary leaders, most of whom let their charisma go to their heads, turning into despots: Pasquale Paoli, George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Toussaint Louverture, and Simon Bolivar. (Washington was the exception, in that he twice walked away from power that was his for the taking.)
Jason Bisnoff: Fake Politics: How Corporate and Government Groups Create and Maintain a Monopoly on Truth (2019, Skyhorse). On how corporations and right-wing lobbyists fund protests to make it look like their special interests are clamored for by "grassroots" movements. Some cases covered here: "the tea party, oil industry, big tobacco, big data, and news media."
Mark Bittman: Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, From Sustainable to Suicidal (2021, Houghton Mifflin): As a cookbook author, he's tended toward the encyclopedia while trying to remain accessible -- e.g., How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food (1998). Here he's looking for something deeper: a global history of food, merged with a political tract about what we should be growing and eating now.
Russell Cobb: The Great Oklahoma Swindle: Race, Religion, and Lies in America's Weirdest State (2020, Bison Books). I spent a fair amount of time in Oklahoma when I was growing up, and two things struck me as especially weird: one is that every small town we stopped at had a Civil War cannon in the town square, even though Oklahoma wasn't part of the Confederacy, and didn't become a state until 1908; the other is that most of the people we knew there had stronger Southern accents than the people we knew from Arkansas. In the early 1800s Oklahoma was a dumping ground for Indians forced off their lands in the South. From the 1870s the US government started carving off chunks for settlers, nearly all of whom came from the South -- most whites who claimed the state for Dixie. By the 1920s Oklahoma had become reliably racist and Democratic, evolving in the 1970s to Republican. I've found that it shares a number of traits with New Hampshire, like collecting a lot of state revenues from badly maintained toll roads. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and Oklahoma has enough to fill a book -- perhaps this one. Also on Oklahoma:
Jonathan Cohn: The Ten Year War: Obamacare and the Unfinished Crusade for Universal Coverage (2021, St Martin's Press): Major history of the passage of Obama's Affordable Care Act, its troubled implementation and aftermath as Republicans sought to repeal or at least sabotage the law. Cohn wrote one of the more important books on health care before ACA: Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis -- and the People Who Pay the Price (2007). He recapitulates that story in the first part, then reviews its passage and subsequent Republican attempts to repeal or at least sabotage. Although ACA made a bad situation a bit less worse, it also missed the point, which is that you can't get to universal coverage while requiring people to buy private insurance, and you can't manage the health care system sensibly while leaving it in the hands of profit-seeking intermediaries.
Mike Davis/Jon Wiener: Set the Night on Fire: LA in the Sixties (2020, Verso): Both authors have long histories of writing book about radical politics -- Wiener is best known for his work on John Lennon, but he also wrote Conspiracy in the Streets: The Extraordinary Trial of the Chicago Seven; Davis has a long bibliography, including two previous books on Los Angeles: City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (1990), and Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (1998). This covers the whole range of political upheaval in the 1960s, but much of it will be about racism and the civil rights struggle.
Abdul El-Sayed/Micah Johnson: Medicare for All: A Citizen's Guide (2021, Oxford University Press). The solution isn't going away, because the problem isn't going away. Sure, it's possible to improve Obamacare, but that's mostly by throwing money at it, as the system is designed to preserve the profits of a parasitic and unnecessary middle layer in every transaction. Still, that's not the worst problem with private insurance. More important is a guarantee that everyone is covered, and that everyone is taken care of equally. Consistency pays for itself in efficiency, and those savings can be converted to better care: more comprehensive, and more robust. More recent books on health care:
Robert Gellately: Hitler's True Believers: How Ordinary People Became Nazis (2020, Oxford University Press): Seems like a fair question, but I doubt there's an easy or clear answer. It's not clear how many Germans supported how much of Hitler's program, or when, or why. I'm reminded of the characterization of conservative political thought as nothing but "irritable mental gestures." I suspect that the racism and anti-semitism that were central to Nazi ideology were taken as little else, until Hitler raised and legitimized them. More important were resentment over the Great War loss and reparations, which turned to pride as Hitler's renascent militarism seemed to cower the formerly victorious France and Britain. The result was that most Germans were fiercely loyal to Hitler until the end of the war, after which they discarded their Nazi heritage as quickly as possible. On the other hand, I suspect that Gellately will try to pin everything on ideology. After all, that was his tack in his previous book, Stalin's Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War. Stalin's purges showed him to be pragmatic and cynical, with no consistent ideology. Other recent books on Nazi Germany, especially its origins and control:
Jamal Greene: How Rights Went Wrong: Why Our Obsession With Rights Is Tearing America Apart (2021, Houghton Mifflin): Law professor, perhaps explaining his desire to nitpick, especially to object when judges decide "rights" trump conflicting interests. I'm reluctant to go along, seeing as how much progress over the last century has come from expanding the realm of personal rights. On the other hand, as the judiciary has been stocked with right-wing cadres, we're seeing novel claims of "rights" used for reactionary purposes (e.g., political spending is "free speech," and regulations are being stripped where they're in conflict with "religious choice").
Robert Harms: Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa (2019, Basic Books): Covers three decades from 1870 as western explorers (and exploiters) finally penetrated the Congo basin and East Africa, lands they had traded with through coastal intermediaries for centuries (not that the slave trade didn't have ramifications far inland). This was "the scramble for Africa," the period when European powers competed to fill in the maps of Africa with their colonial colors, while collecting ivory, rubber, and whatever else of value they could cart off.
Gregory B Jaczko: Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator (2019, Simon & Schuster): Political memoir of the one-time (2009-12) head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a time that includes the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. Jaczko was one of the very few critics of nuclear power to ever get inside this "watchdog" agency -- his appointment was pushed by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) with the express agenda of opposing the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository. He has since gone on to found "a clean energy development company," so it's fair to say that his rogue-ness has always been consistent with his incentives. That doesn't necessarily make him wrong, and he does offer a contrast to the much longer history of NRC chairs and members with long-standing interests in the nuclear power industry.
Adam Jentleson: Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy (2021, Liveright): They like to call it "the world's greatest deliberative body," but the main purpose of all that deliberation was to stall any sort of changes, but especially progressive reforms. The Senate has always been skewed against popular control, more check than balance, and that undemocratic bias has been locked in: in today's 50-50 Senate, Democrats represent 41 million more people than Republicans, but have the same number of votes. A big part of this is the filibuster, hence it looms large in this book, but there's more if you scratch deeper.
Marc C Johnson: Tuesday Night Massacre: Four Senate Elections and the Radicalization of the Republican Party (paperback, 2021, OUP): The election was in 1980, when Ronald Reagan took the presidency from Jimmy Carter, and the Republicans gained control of the Senate, in large part by purging well-known liberal Democrats Frank Church (ID), George McGovern (SD), John Culver (IA), and Birch Bayh (IN).
Tony Keddie: Republican Jesus: How the Right Has Rewritten the Gospels (2020, University of California Press): "Jesus loves borders, guns, unborn babies, and economic prosperity and hates homosexuality, taxes, welfare, and universal healthcare." Keddie, a historian of the early Christian period, cares to argue those "outrageous misreadings." I'm sure he's right, but care less, having long ago rejected a far more benign understanding of Christianity.
Charles R Kesler: Crisis of the Two Constitutions: The Rise, Decline, & Recovery of American Greatness (2021, Encounter Books): Editor of Claremont Review of Books, seems to be regarded as an actual thinker among pro-Trump conservatives. I read an interview with him, and gleaned no insights into his thinking, other than a muddle of dislikes and vague fears. He's even more evasive on the providing any substance for his sub-title: When was America great? Why isn't it now? How can it be great in the future? Or, simply, what the fuck does "great" mean in regard to nations?
Patrick Kingsley: The New Odyssey: The Story of the Twenty-First Century Refugee Crisis (2017, Liveright): British, writes for The Guardian. Details various stories of refugees struggling to flee dangers in Africa and the Middle East to reach asylum in Europe.
Elizabeth Kolbert: Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future (2021, Crown): Geologic time is divided into epochs, with the recent ice ages dubbed the Pleistocene. The relatively short sliver of time since their retreat was simply "The Recent," but as we become aware of the extraordinary changes wrought by human beings, a new name has been gaining currency: Anthropocene. New Yorker writer Kolbert has written a number of essays on this, compiled into two important books: Field Notes From a Catastrophe and The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. More essays, this time chronicling efforts to undo the thoughtless attack on nature through better thinking.
Bruce Levine: Thaddeus Stevens: Civil War Revolutionary, Fighter for Racial Justice (2021, Simon & Schuster): Abolitionist, politician, a leader of the "radical Republicans" and their push for "a second American revolution," advanced through the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, and the short-lived reconstruction of the defeated slave regime. Due for a revival as we finally shake those last Confederate cobwebs from our collective consciousness.
Benjamin Lorr: The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket (2020, Avery): Based on hundreds of interviews over five years into every facet of the product chain that winds up filling grocery store shelves, which is to say most of what we eat every day.
Rachel Maddow/Michael Yarvitz: Bag Man: The Wild Crimes, Audacious Cover-Up, and Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House (2020, Crown): When Richard Nixon insisted "I am not a crook," he may well have been thinking of Spiro Agnew, his vice-president, figuring all things are relative. He did, at least, dispose of Agnew before handing in his own resignation -- a small favor, but a real one. Perhaps with Trump as president, now is a good time to be reminded of past instances of unsavory greed in or near the White House. However, I find it hard to see how the MSNBC broadcaster would have had time or inclination to write on a story so far from her established interests, so I wouldn't be surprise if this is really Yarvitz's book, with Maddow using her fame and notoreity to help peddle it.
Heather McGhee: The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together (2021, One World): Attempts some kind of cost-benefit analysis of racism, which can be difficult because many of the costs are second- or third-degree effects. E.g., wouldn't we have a higher minimum wage, more public benefits, better health care, etc., if government activity that helps people equally wasn't disparaged by racists. Chapter 2 is called "Racism Drained the Pool." It starts with a discussion of infrastructure, which has been neglected because racism divides us, limiting public interest. McGhee travels around the country, sniffing out concrete examples. Fundamentally sound point.
Wesley Morgan: The Hardest Place: The American Military Adrift in Afghanistan's Pech Valley (2021, Random House): "Military affairs reporter," evidently knows which side his bread is buttered on, but can't quite sugar coat everything. Typical blurb: "captures the heroism, fear, and exultation of combat while laying out a damning portrait of military leaders who rushed into battle against an enemy they didn't understand and ultimately couldn't beat." Book covers 2002-17, with author first visiting Pech/Kunar in 2010. Despite all evidence to the contrary, embedded journalists cling to the belief that US troops mean well, and that they are somehow allaying an even worse fate. But they are the catastrophe.
Gary Saul Morson/Morton Schapiro: Minds Wide Shut: How the New Fundamentalisms Divide Us (2021, Princeton University Press). Authors are literary scholars, which may be why they love to pick up a good cliché. On page 23, they write: "Fundamentalists are hedgehogs." They believe that literature teaches us to be foxes, even though novels are full of tragic hedgehogs. Isaiah Berlin's parable is famous enough it scarcely needs footnoting, but I wonder whether the authors haven't fallen into their own trap in siding with the foxes. Their argument turns on defining fundamentalism, which turns out to be a one-size-fits-all reduction of all sorts of disagreeable beliefs, ultimately defined by little more than the stubborn certainty with which they are held. I don't disagree that dialogue is preferable, but wonder whether insisting on it isn't another fundamentalism, one denying any core principles. As I've found that the denial of principles is itself one, I doubt their house of cards will stand. Authors also wrote:
John Mueller: The Stupidity of War: American Foreign Policy and the Case for Complacency (2021, Cambridge University Press): I've been waiting for a book to back up this title, but I'd probably start with the balance sheet: it's impossible to win at war, or even anticipate the costs and consequences; even when you have something that looks like victory, it's likely to turn into a trap. As military operations, the US in Afghanistan and Iraq easily seized territory and set up compliant governments, but were unable to sustain control, settling into quagmires. History is full of examples, but focus on history risks obscuring how the equations have changed since the decline of colonial empires. Up through WWII, aggressive politicians could imagine gains from conquest, but with more and more people demanding independence and autonomy, the world has, in Jonathan Schell's phrase, become unconquerable. That should result in nations cutting back on their military expenses, and as that happens, there is ever less need for military defense. Early in the 20th century, there were diplomatic efforts to outlaw war and to promote disarmament. One would have expected such efforts to resume after the conflagration of WWII, but the US sought a different kind of world dominance, and to that end disguised its War Department as Defense, projecting power through a worldwide network of bases and "mutual defense pacts." True, the Soviet Union reciprocated, giving the US a "threat" to defend against, but when that "threat" ended, the US became if anything even more aggressive. Mueller argues that the US has systematically exaggerated threats ever since 1945. This has enabled a huge bureaucracy to accumulate an enormous arsenal to fend off imaginary threats -- something that would have been mere waste had it not buttressed an arrogant foreign policy which has itself provoked resistance and led to self-debilitating wars. He goes on to argue that "a policy of complacency and appeasement likely would have worked better." If the word "appeasement" sticks in your craw, it's because we've been indoctrinated for 75 years to think that the cause of WWII was not Hitler's madness (conditioned by centuries of European imperialism, and by the punitive sanctions placed on Germany after WWI) but Neville Chamberlain's "appeasement" to Hitler's pre-war demand for a slice of Czechoslovakia. Mueller could have picked less inflammatory words, but his point is apt. Most post-WWII conflicts could have been managed better with diplomacy and the promise of trade and development, and more safely without the peril of arms and annihilation. What I'd like to see is the US unwind its imperial posture through negotiations with the rest of the world. No nation really benefits from nuclear weapons, foreign bases, or cyberwarfare, so why not agree to eliminate them? And given that the US is far and away the world's greatest threat, why would other countries not agree to follow suit? If that seems like a dream, it's actually one that's more than 100 years old -- only the technology has changed, but the advent of machine guns, poison gas, and aerial bombing was already terrifying enough. But isn't the first step toward realizing that dream recognizing the stupidity of war?
Serhii Plokhy: Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missle Crisis (2021, WW Norton). Author teaches Ukrainian history at Harvard, so don't expect him to be a Krushchev fan, but he's had the luxury of sifting through recently opened Soviet archives, which offer a broader perspective than the usual American take on the 1962 crisis -- usually presented as hagiography, a tribute to John F Kennedy's steely resolve and cool reason. It seems more likely that all three leaders (also Fidel Castro) had their blind spots, misapprehensions, and rash tempers, which contributed to the peril as well as its resolution.
Serhii Plokhy: The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union (paperback, 2015, Basic Books): I've likened the end of the Soviet Union to a wrestling match where one fighter collapses with a heart attack, and the other seizes the opportunity to pounce on his disabled opponent and claim victory. That isn't Plokhy's metaphor, but he cites a "victory" speech by GWH Bush the day after Gorbachev resigned that illustrates it perfectly. Plokhii attributes the end mostly to the growing independence movements (especially in Ukraine and Russia, which was Boris Yeltsin's power base), having little to do with US pressure (which if anything was paralyzed by fear and misunderstanding).
Varshini Prakash/Guido Girgenti, eds: Winning the Green New Deal: Why We Must, How We Can (paperback, 2020, Simon & Schuster). Sixteen essays on various aspects and arguments, written before the 2020 election. Biden campaigned in the primaries against GND, but offers a subset in his big infrastructure bill and his newfound climate focus, along with jobs support -- the New Deal part of GND. As long as you combine more sustainable energy policy with economic support to minimize the effects of dislocations, it doesn't matter what you call it. Some recent Green New Deal (and climate-related) books:
Dennis C Rasmussen: Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America's Founders (2021, Princeton University Press): We tend to blindly celebrate the wisdom of the American Republic's founders, but this points out most of them soon had misgivings. This focuses on Washington (rued "the rise of partisanship"), Hamilton ("felt that the federal government was too weak"), Adams ("believed the people lacked civic virtue"), and Jefferson (bemoaned "sectional divisions laid bare by the spread of slavery"). Also discusses the exception to the rule: James Madison.
Eric Rauchway: Why the New Deal Matters (2021, Yale University Press): Historian, previously wrote the even briefer The Great Depression & the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction (160 pp vs 232 here), as well as more detailed monographs on the same period. One thing that seems strange in retrospect was how little we were taught about Franklin Roosevelt during my childhood (1955-67), especially compared to the way Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and (especially) Lincoln were lionized after less epochal presidencies. (Republicans have since given Reagan the same treatment, to somewhat lesser effect).
Touré F Reed: Toward Freedom: The Case Against Race Reductionism (paperback, 2020, Verso): Not obvious to me what "race reductionism" means -- perhaps the single-minded focus on one factor (in this case, race) to the exclusion of all others. "Reed argues that Afro-Americans' quest for freedom has been most successful when a common-good, rather than identity-group, strategy has determined tactics and alliances." If that's all the point is, sure.
Lawrence Rosenthal: Empire of Resentment: Populism's Toxic Embrace of Nationalism (2020, New Press): Missed this in last autumn's survey of Trump books, possibly because it aspires to greater generalities. Like fellow Kansan Thomas Frank, I've never accepted the notion that Trump had any connection to populism, but if you do buy the link, the real question is why did "populists" choose to align themselves with conservatives, whose real agenda is simply the preservation of a hierarchy defined principally by wealth. Conservatives have long tried to broaden their base by capturing nationalist and religious fancies, so if "populists" accept the rightful rule of the rich, of course they're going to pick up the extra baggage -- which in America is laced with racism and gun fetishism.
Guy Smith: Guns and Control: A Nonpartisan Guide to Understanding Mass Public Shootings, Gun Accidents, Crime, Public Carry, Suicides, Defensive Use, and More (2020, Skyhorse). Founder, Gun Facts Project ("We are neither pro-gun nor anti-gun. We are pro-math and anti-BS"). Despite this "nonpartisan" angle, note that the NRA has been especially vigilant about preventing any statistical survey and analysis of gun incidents. By the way, an Amazon search for "gun control" yields many more pro-gun books than anti-, starting with two books by Stephen P Halbrook crying over Gun Control in the Third Reich and Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France, John R Lott Jr's many books, like the clearly unsound More Guns Less Crime -- a rationale that can only be justified by excluding overwhelming evidence. Also: Stalked and Defenseless: How Gun Control Helped My Stalker Murder My Husband in Front of Me. Some recent, less obviously ridiculous books on guns:
Daniel Susskind: A World Without Work: Technology, Automation, and How We Should Respond (2020, Metropolitan Books): Oxford economist, sees the future and thinks, hey, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm sympathetic to that point of view, but understand that to make it work you have to have a public support network that eases the transitions, and that provides support for people unable to make them. I've had two careers that were pretty much ended by technology shifts, which to some extent I nudged forward. I always figured that the more of my work that could be automated, the more I could do new things -- and that's pretty much how it worked out, although not necessarily to my profit. So I think this will be an increasingly important subject. At least, unless we get wiped out by stupid shit in the meantime. Related, which leads to post-scarcity economics and postcapitalism:
Frederick Taylor: 1939: A People's History of the Coming of the Second World War (2020, WW Norton): This starts with September 1938, as Hitler starts to make aggressive moves east, and follows the diplomacy until it becomes purely military. Also on the War:
Larry Tye: Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy (2020, Houghton Mifflin): Big (608 pp) biography of the Wisconsin Republican Senator, whose name is synonymous with red baiting. His fall, after extending his slanders to the Army, was so precipitous that McCarthyism is remembered as an abomination, even by those following in his footsteps -- e.g., Donald Trump, whose early mentor was McCarthy's own counsel, Roy Cohn.
Clive Thompson: Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World (2019, Penguin Press): A fairly breezy survey of the art and history of software engineering, from ENIAC to (or past) Facebook. Having made a decent living at this for over 20 years, this is comfortable turf for me, the more nuts and bolts the better.
Dietrich Vollrath: Fully Grown: Why a Stagnant Economy Is a Sign of Success (2020, University of Chicago Press): Argues "our current slowdown is, in fact, a sign of our widespread economic success. Our powerful economy has already supplied so much of the necessary stuff of modern life, brought us so much comfort, security, and luxury, that we have turned to new forms of production and consumption that increase our well-being but do not contribute to growth in GDP." This argument may not be so unconventional, as it is suggested by Robert J Gordon: The Rise and Fall of American Growth, who shows that reduced growth after 1970 is connected to a shift in consumption factors, and James Galbraith: The End of Normal. This focuses on America, but when I first read the title I thought first of Japan: economists have complained about slack growth there since 1990, but the standard of living seems stable. This makes me wonder if the left shouldn't focus more on safety net and risk issues, as opposed to wage increases (unions and minimum wage). Longer term, this is good news, as infinite growth was never going to happen anyway. Also that political strategies based on shared growth aren't going to work. In fact, I believe businessfolk realized this around 1970, when growth rates started to drop significantly. From that point, the only way they could satisfy their own growth expectations was to take more from the rest of us, which is what they've been doing for 50 years now.
Jia Lynn Yang: One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle Over American Immigration, 1924-1965 (2020, WW Norton): In 1924, Congress passed a law restricting immigration by imposing national quotas, which discriminated against recent waves of immigrants from south-and-eastern Europe (as well as previously restricted Africa and Asia). In 1965, the quota system was repealed, allowing immigration to expand with demand. More focus on how immigration got opened up than how it got shut down, including bits on the author's parents.
Other recent books of interest, barely noted (I may write more on some of these later):
Scott Anderson: The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War -- A Tragedy in Three Acts (2020, Doubleday).
Nicholas Aschoff: The New Prophets of Capital (paperback, 2015, Verso): Critiques of Sheryl Sandberg, John Mackey, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill & Melinda Gates.
Joel Bakan: The New Corporation: How "Good" Corporations Are Bad for Democracy (paperback, 2020, Knopf): Effectively an update to Bakan's 2005 book, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power.
Charles M Blow: The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto (2021, Harper).
Lynne Cheney: The Virginia Dynasty: Four Presidents and the Creation of the American Nation (2020, Viking).
Marie Favereau: The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World (2021, Belknap Press).
Steve Fraser: Mongrel Firebugs and Men of Property: Capitalism and Class Conflict in American History (paperback, 2019, Verso).
Timothy Frye: Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin's Russia (2021, Princeton University Press).
Eddie S Glaude Jr: Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own (2020, Crown).
Glenn Greenwald: Securing Democracy: My Fight for Press Freedom and Justice in Bolsonaro's Brazil (2021, Haymarket Books).
Eliza Griswold: Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America (2018, Farrar Straus and Giroux; paperback, 2019, Picador Books): Won Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.
Peter Guralnick: Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing (2020, Little Brown).
Tom Holland: Dominion: How the Christian Rvolution Remade the World (2019; paperback, 2021, Basic Books).
Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling: A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (2020, PublicAffairs).
John B Judis: The Socialist Awakening: What's Different Now About the Left (paperback, 2020, Columbia Global Reports).
Fred Kaplan: The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War (2020, Simon & Schuster).
Robert D Kaplan: The Good American: The Epic Life of Bob Gersony, the US Government's Greatest Humanitarian (2021, Random House).
Alexander Keyssar: Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College? (2020, Harvard University Press).
Susan W Kieffer: The Dynamics of Disaster (2013; paperback, 2014, WW Norton).
Ümit Kurt: The Armenians of Aintab: The Economics of Genocide in an Ottoman Province (2021, Harvard University Press).
Victoria Law: "Prisons Make Us Safer": And 20 Other Myths About Mass Incarceration
Edward N Luttwak: Coup D'État: A Practial Handbook (1968; revised, paperback, 2016, Harvard University Press).
Charlton D McIlwain: Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, From the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter (2019, ).
Alexander Mikaberidze: The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History (2020, Oxford University Press): 960 pp.
Thant Myint-U: The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century (2019; paperback, 2021, WW Norton).
Tom Nichols: The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters (2017; paperback, 2018, Oxford University Press).
Susan Page: Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power (2021, Twelve).
Jeremy D Popkin: A New World Begins: The History of the French Revolution (2019, Basic Books).
Eric A Posner/E Glen Weyl: Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society (2018, Princeton University Press).
Michael Provence: The Last Ottoman Generation and the Making of the Modern Middle East (paperback, 2017, Cambridge University Press).
Thomas E Ricks: First Principles: What America's Founders Learned From the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country (2020, Harper).
Ritchie Robertson: The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790 (2021, Harper): Big (1008 pp).
Martin Sandbu: The Economics of Belonging: A Radical Plan to Win Back the Left Behind and Achieve Prosperity for All (2020, Princeton University Press).
James Shapiro: Shakespeare in a Divided Ameria: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future (paperback, 2021, Penguin Books).
David O Stewart: George Washington: The Political Rise of America's Founding Father (2021, Dutton).
Cass R Sunstein: This Is Not Normal: The Politics of Everyday Expectations (2021, Yale University Press): Essay collection.
Hadas Thier: A People's Guide to Capitalism: An Introduction to Marxist Economics (paperback, 2020, Haymarket Books).
Karen Tumulty: The Triumph of Nancy Reagan (2021, Simon & Schuster): 672 pp.
Sunday, April 4, 2021
Thought it might be a good time to do another Book Roundup. Last ones were October 16 and October 14, just before the 2020 election, when I was trying to round up anything (and everything) out on Trump. Those followed two more 2020 posts, from May 21 and May 16. I doubt Trump caused more people to read in 2020, but he sure stimulated more people to write.
Ground rules here: 40 books in the main section, some of which got me to tack on a supplemental reading list, and a final section of books I noticed but decided not to comment on (other than minor notes; e.g. on author identity). I may expand on the short listings in the future, but most often I just want to put the books behind me.
Very little out yet on the big stories of 2020: the pandemic, the recession, and the election, but see the Allen and Zakaria entries below -- oddly enough, given how much was written about the 2008 recession, there is as yet very little specifically on 2020's economic downturn. On the other hand, there is a lot about US foreign policy, including the long and interminable proclivity for war. I missed several opportunities to combine entries, but the books I focused on seem like significant ones. I limited my China entry to current affairs, especially the superpower rivalry that has Washington hawks so excited. I found more historical books on China, but didn't get them organized, so they'll wait.
Robert Christgau wrote a review of the Sublettes' book, so I figured I should look at it, even though it's a few years old (2016). At the time, I was reading Michael W Twitty's The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South, which covers the same territory from an opposite tack: reconstructing the past from what it's left in the present. I then started looking for other books on slavery, and was surprised to come up with a long set of monographs I hadn't previously noted before. Also surprised to find that most of them were based outside of the US, with some viewing the slave trade from Africa and/or Europe.
Only books I've read from the following list are those by: Mike Konczal, Stephen Wertheim. (I've also read a lot by Millhiser in Vox.) Nothing else on the shelf or on order. I usually find several books I'm eager to read, so this seems like slim pickings, but my writing projects are so up in the air I'm not sure which direction to look. Certainly not to the several right-wing books noted below, which are unlikely to offer anything but evidence of how conservatism has devolved into nothing but more than a deranged and pathetic mental state. I've done similar things in the past, but the supplemental list under Soukup sets a new record for unhinged paranoia. The common perception here is that it's the left that's out to destroy America, which strains credulity two ways: what do they mean by destroy? and who is this left that has so much influence and power? The mind boggles. (Many on the left have chosen not to contest the right over patriotism, given its close association with militarism and chauvinism, but as the right becomes ever more blatant in their antipathy to democracy, we're now starting to see articles arguing that it's the right that's become un-American. A welcome piece here: Zack Beauchamp: The conservative movement is rejecting America.)
I probably have enough books for a follow-up post, but have yet to write much about half of what I'd need. I'm also thinking about doing separate posts on music and cooking books, but I'd be hard-pressed to come up with enough of either, unless I extended by time window.
Jonathan Allen/Amie Parnes: Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency (2021, Crown): Political reporters for NBC News and The Hill, were first out the gate with their 2016 election book Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign, evidently figured they'd match that with a quickie account of how Biden was similarly doomed, then when he won had 30 seconds or so to choose a new title. The lucky campaigner both times was Trump, but by 2020 he had dug such a deep hole that even his luck couldn't pull him out. More on the 2020 election (ignoring books on how Trump was robbed):
Albena Azmanova: Capitalism on Edge: How Fighting Precarity Can Achieve Radical Change Without Crisis or Utopia (paperback, 2020, Columbia University Press): I don't think I ever heard "precarity" before about a year ago, but it must have popped up a dozen times since. Same root as "precarious," but refers to the general condition, where everything is precarious, which is to say optimized and marginalized to the point where it could break any moment. In 2020, even before any significant numbers of people became infected with Covid-19, before retail stores were locked down, highly optimized "just-in-time" supply lines crippled the economy. Then within a few weeks health care and retail firms broke down due to shortages. For another example, in March 2021 a ridiculously oversized ship got blown into a bank of the Suez Canal, disrupting worldwide shipping. A month before that, a cold snap broke the power grid in Texas, which in turn broke water systems. So yeah, precarity is everywhere. This isn't unrelated to what Naomi Klein calls "disaster capitalism," but shows that Klein was far too optimistic in her expectation that capitalists would continue to profit from disasters. Clearly, there are limits, and that opens up political opportunities for challenging precarity. To cite one example, it's long been clear to me that it's too late to prevent global warming. Sure, there are things one can still do to keep it from getting much worse, and as an engineer I appreciate the advantages of prevention over repair, but the pressing need now is for disaster contingency and recovery. And that may mean rolling back and limiting capitalism's drive for profit.
Nicholson Baker: Baseless: My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act (2020, Penguin Press): A history of "Project Baseless": "a crash Pentagon program begun in the early fifties that aimed to achieve 'an Air Force-wide combat capability in biological and chemical warfare at the earliest possible date.'" Or perhaps that's just the prism for a book on what we can glean from what the government tries to hide from us, imperfectly illuminated by the law's requirement that the government is obligated to answer (not all that completely) the public's questions. "Along the way, he unearths stories of balloons carrying crop disease, leaflet bombs filled with feathers, suicidal scientists, leaky centrifuges, paranoid political-warfare tacticians, insane experiments on animals and humans, weaponized ticks, ferocious propaganda battles with China, and cover and deception plans meant to trick the Kremlin into ramping up its germ-warfare program."
Vincent Bevins: The Jakarta Method: Washington's Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program That Shaped Our World (2020, PublicAffairs): Details the systematic massacre of hundreds of thousands of alleged leftists in Indonesia in 1965-66, supported by the US and to a large extent directed by the CIA. This was one of the most egregious examples of a pattern repeated elsewhere, especially in Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela), and even more brutally under cover of war (Vietnam, Cambodia). And, of course, most recently with the "targeted [and less discriminating] killings" of the "Global War on Terror." Related:
Rosa Brooks: Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City (2021, Penguin Press): OK, this one is weird. Author is daugher of trained scientist and radical journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, who (among much else) went undercover to work shit jobs and wrote a bestseller about her experiences. Brooks became a lawyer, married a career soldier, got a job working in the Pentagon, wrote a book about it -- more pro-military than I'd like, but not stupid either. For her second book, she immersed again, becoming a sworn, armed reserve police officer in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department. She trained like a regular cop but just worked 24 hours per month, patrolling streets and busting suspects, while keeping her tenured job teaching at Georgetown. I read a few pages, and her experiences are interesting enough. I haven't seen her conclusions, but probably not stupid either.
Nick Bryant: When America Stopped Being Great: A History of the Present (2021, Bloomsbury): Greatness, even more than beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. America hasn't seemed great to me since the mid-1960s, and what changed then had more to do with my growing understanding of history than tarnished reality (not that the Vietnam debacle didn't drive my review). By 1970, my disillusionment was so complete that later evocations of greatness, like Trump's Make America Great Again boast, struck me as nonsensical (or maybe just a disingenuous way of saying "Make America White Again"). So I was a bit curious to find an author promising to pin down an actual turning point. However, I doubt anyone will like this book. Bryant is British, which means he grew up with his own delusions of greatness, and transferred them to the America that supplanted Britain as the cornerstone and hegemon of world capitalism. Bryant dates this decline from Reagan's ascendency in 1980, and traces the rot through "Bill and Newt" (3rd chapter title) to Donald Trump (last third of the book). There is real substance to that decline, although you had to actually live here to understand the real impact of Reagan-to-Trump (a good book in that regard is Kurt Andersen's Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America). But the idea of greatness has always depended on blind spots. When Britain was such a great empire in the mid-19th century, wasn't Dickens writing about ragpickers in London? Indeed, isn't pining for greatness some kind of mental illness? Before Trump, the American politician most associated with the word was Lyndon Johnson, the architect of the Great Society. As I recall, Bill Moyers tried to talk Johnson into calling his social welfare programs the Good Society, but good wasn't good enough for Johnson: he wanted great, which turned out to be unattainable.
Francisco Cantú: The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches From the Border (2018; paperback, 2019, Riverhead Books): Born on the American side of the US-Mexico border, descended from immigrants from the other side, the author worked for the Border Patrol, then quit when the "dehumanizing enterprise" got to be too much for him. A memoir, with further investigations and meditation.
Anne Case/Angus Deaton: Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism (paperback, 2021, Princeton University Press): "Deaths of despair from suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholism are rising dramatically in the United States, claiming hundreds of thousands of American lives." I don't doubt that predatory capitalism and inequality are to blame, but I'd like to expand the matrix to see how war and debt relate -- not independent factors, but concrete manifestations of more general maladies. Harder to measure is how the conservative creeds of self-reliance and distrust in public social services weigh in. Deaton previously wrote The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality (2013).
Paul Thomas Chamberlin: The Cold War's Killing Fields: Rethinking the Long Peace (2018; paperback, 2019, Harper): The "Cold War" wasn't so cold, and while it could have been much worse, the wars fought for and against "communism" took a huge toll, especially in Asia. Chamberlin cites 14 million dead from 1945-90, which is about one fifth of the WWII death toll and a third of WWI. Focuses on Asia, with early chapters on China, Korea, and Indochina, moving on to Indonesia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Middle East, but doesn't seem to cover Europe, Latin America or Africa -- significant arenas of conflict, albeit with lesser body counts. Still, while we should welcome a reminder of how high those body counts were, the most extraordinary thing about America's anti-communist crusade was how global it was. The US sought global power, not through direct rule but by installing a hegemonic politico-economic system everywhere, or failing that by isolating noncomforming nations so they're excluded from the world system. It's hard to exaggerate the amount of hubris that mission required. No surprise it led to millions of careless deaths. Nor did it end in 1990. After the Soviet Union imploded, the quest for domination only grew more determined, as did the inevitable resistance.
Steve Deace/Todd Erzen: Faucian Bargain: The Most Powerful and Dangerous Bureaucrat in American History (paperback, 2021, Post Hill Press): I guess hyperbole sells, at least in certain quarters: "#1 Best Seller" at Amazon, "As seen on Tucker Carlson Tonight, As heard on Glenn Beck." I can understand why the authors don't like knowledgeable authorities, but not why they consider Anthony Fauci either powerful or dangerous. He had little effect within the Trump administration, and rarely challenged the rampant nonsense around him. On the other hand, to be the most "in American history," he has to beat out some seriously powerful and dangerous bureaucrats. Of the top of my head: J Edgar Hoover, Floyd Dominy, Harry Anslinger, Andrew Mellon, Alan Greenspan, Edward Teller, Allen Dulles, Henry Kissinger -- when you start getting into spooks and warlords, the list mushrooms. And beneath the Federal level, you get characters like Robert Moses and William Mulholland -- you can make a pretty strong case for them.
Luke Epplin: Our Team: The Epic Story of Four Men and the World Series That Changed Baseball (2021, Flatiron Books). On the 1948 Cleveland Indians, the first team to integrate in the American League (actually in 1947, after Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers). The four men are owner Bill Veeck ("as in wreck"), Larry Doby (young black outfielder), Bob Feller (Hall of Fame pitcher, not one of his better years at 19-15 -- actually Bob Lemon had the better year, at 20-14, 2.82 ERA, plus 2-0 in the World Series), and Satchel Paige (old black pitcher). Whereas Dodger GM Branch Rickey looked for a can't miss black player in his prime (Robinson was a 28-year-old rookie in 1947, hit .297, with 125 runs, 12 HR and 29 SB), Veeck sought to blow up all the rationalizations (at least too green and too old) why blacks couldn't play in the majors. Feller was the team's star, but Cleveland hadn't come close until 24-year-old Doby hit .301 with 14 HR and 41-year-old Paige went 6-1 with a 2.48 ERA. By the way, Veeck continued to break patterns in hiring black players, adding Luke Easter and Minnie Minoso in 1949.
Philip H Gordon: Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East (2020, St Martin's Press): Certified foreign policy mandarin, Obama's Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (2009-13) and White House Coordinator for the Middle East (2013-15), so he's had plenty of opportunity to see "well-intentioned plans" go awry: Libya, Syria, Yemen, and the coup that ended Egypt's brief democracy all occurred on his watch. He also inherited the longer-term consequences of Bush's signature regime change projects: Afghanistan and Iraq. Not to mention efforts going back to 1953 to decide who rules Iran, and for whom. Despite all this empirical evidence -- and this is just the Middle East; one could write similar books on Latin America, Africa, and the Far East -- not clear whether Gordon spells out the core fallacy behind regime change: the belief that other governments should serve not their own people but US national interests. Still, a step in the right direction. Albeit another example of someone who got smarter after leaving the job, having been replaced by others who have yet to learn the same lessons.
Martin Gurri: The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium (2014; 2nd Edition, 2018, Stripe Press): Former CIA analyst, complains about how the glut of "open media" today limits the ability of elites to hoodwink the public, leaving most people deeply distrustful. Second edition offers an "I told you so" on Trump, although the list of things he claims to have anticipated also includes Brexit and Arab Spring. I read Sean Illing's interview with this guy at Vox, and didn't get anything useful out of it. I suspect two problems. One is that "elites" have become much more compartmentalized over time: while they still dominate their institutions, they are less linked, and as such have less influence beyond their limited spheres of control. Someone should take a shot at updating C Wright Mills' The Power Elite, not that such a task will be easy. The second is that while elites may have had some widespread value in the past, their prime directive has always been self-preservation, and that becomes harder the easier it is for the public to examine their lives. The simplest explanation for the "revolt of the public" is that most people have come to know better than to trust elites. That some charlatans and posers like Trump have taken advantage only shows that the loss of trust has caused some confusion.
Sarah Jaffe: Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone (2021, Bold Type Books): Antonio Gramsci had a concept he called Fordism, where factory work had become so thoughtlessly repetitive workers could disengage and let their minds wander, in some sense reclaiming their own time. That turned out to be a phase, as machines claimed most of those jobs. Since then companies have an ever larger slice of worker time and mind share, as jobs (or more fashionably, careers) follow you home and fill your dreams. This surveys a wide range of work, the common denominators that the employer demands ever more while returning what? Since the 1970s, economists have been preaching that businesses have only one purpose, which is to maximalize investor returns, and as that lesson sunk in, management has become hard pressed to offer any comfort to their workers. Sure, workers are encouraged to find their own value in their dedication. But the returns go elsewhere. Related:
Mike Konczal: Freedom From the Market: America's Fight to Liberate Itself From the Grip of the Invisible Hand (2021, New Press): Drawing on a wide range of historical examples, tries to make the case that the path to greater freedom comes through more free things. Eight chapters, each starting with "Free": Land, Time, Life, Security, Care, Health, Economy, and Education. This contrasts with the neoliberalism, which tries to create markets for everything, assuming their magic will always work for the best.
Ivan Krastev/Stephen Holmes: The Light That Failed: Why the West Is Losing the Fight for Democracy (2020, Pegasus Books): Maybe because the West doesn't really believe in democracy? I mean, sure, it's OK for us, within the constraints of corporate-owned media, but what happens with impoverished masses start electing parties that favor popular interests over those of business elites? You get coups like Guatemala, Iran, Greece, Congo, Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia, Chile (all US-backed, 1950s-1970s), or maybe something more subtle, like the "Washington Consensus" IMF, or the ECB's limits placed on Greece's Syriza government. Trump's "coddling" of authoritarians and plots to overthrow left-leaning governments in Venezuela and Bolivia isn't new policy not likely to change in the Biden restoration. Holmes wrote a good book back in 2007: The Matador's Cape: America's Reckless Response to Terror. Krastev runs something called the Centre for Liberal Strategies, in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Charles A Kupchan: Isolationism: A History of America's Efforts to Shield Itself From the World (2020, Oxford University Press): The first thing to understand about "isolationism" is that it was a word invented to discredit anyone opposed to or skeptical of the global interventionism which developed in and around the Second World War and its anti-communist aftermath -- a formula which has led to endless war and great hardships at home. Before the rise of "liberal internationalism" Americans, starting with George Washington, sought to interact with the world without forming imperial alliances or (for the most part) foreign colonies. Kupchan understands this, but still warns about a resurgence of "isolationism" as a backlash against the repeated failures of the interventionists. It's a phony argument, aimed at no one real, its sole purpose to shelter the disastrous record of its partisans.
Diana Lind: Brave New Home: Our Future in Smarter, Simpler, Happier Housing (2020, Bold Type Books): As far as I can tell, another entry in a recent flurry of books arguing for denser urban living -- antecedents include David Owen's Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability, perhaps even Jane Jacobs' pro-urban Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) and James Howard Kunstler's anti-suburban The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape (1993). I suspected this new urbanism took a hit with the 2020 pandemic, but maybe it's more important than ever. Related books:
Bjorn Lomborg: False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet (2020, Basic Books): The "skeptical environmentalist" (title of his 2001 book) is still in business, as one of the most skillful opponents of climate change activism, not really trying to deny the problem but always insisting that we refrain from rash acts and be conscientious about costs, offering the odd proposal that isn't acted on either -- a typical title is Smart Solutions to Climate Change, Comparing Costs and Benefits (2010). He might be more credible had he not been latched onto by companies that profit from burning carbon-based fuels. Related:
Erik Loomis: A History of America in Ten Strikes (2018, New Press): Focuses on pivotal events, from the Lowell Mill Girls Strike in the 1830s to the Air Traffic Controllers (1981) and Justice for Janitors (1990). Some are famous, like the Flint Sit-Down Strike (1937), while others were lesser known -- indeed, Slaves on Strike (1861-65) wasn't an event but a protracted, persistent resistance, like the labor's entire history, only fraught with even more danger.
Valeria Luiselli: Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions (paperback, 2017, Coffee House Press): Born in Mexico City, grew up in South Africa, wrote a couple novels, wound up working in US immigration courts as a translator, helping others (mostly children) trying to find their way through the labyrinth and gauntlet. Short (128 pp) and judicious, structured inspired by the questionaires that try to pigeonhole people who rarely fit.
Mahmood Mamdani: Neither Settler nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities (2020, Belknap Press): Born of the Indian diaspora in East Africa, one way British imperialists created minority schisms in their colonies. That's not the explicit subject here, but a viewpoint, as Mamdani devotes chapters to: The Indian Question in the United States; Nuremberg: The Failure of Denazificiation; Settlers and Natives in Apartheid South Africa; Sudan: Colonialism, Independence, and Secession; The Israel/Palestine Question.
Ian Millhiser: The Agenda: How a Republican Supreme Court Is Reshaping America (paperback, 2021, Columbia Global Reports): Covers the courts for Vox, a source I've found to be invaluable. As he notes, from 2011-20, while "Congress enacted hardly any major legislation outside of the tax law President Donald Trump signed in 2017," "the Supreme Court dismantled much of America's campaign finance law, severely weakened the Voting Rights Act, permitted states to opt out of the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion, created a new 'religious liberty' doctrine permitting someone who objects to the law on religious grounds to diminish the rights of third parties, weakened laws shielding workers from sexual and racial harassment, expanded the right of employers to shunt workers with legal grievances into a privatized arbitration system, undercut public sector unions' ability to raise funds, effetively eliminated the president's recess appointment power, and halted President Obama's Clean Power Plan." I think we have a tendency to see disasters as future (and therefore preventable), but the right has long been obsessed with capturing the courts and using their power to force their agenda. While the worst may still be to come, the bad is very much with us. More on law and the courts:
Pankaj Mishra: Bland Fanatics: Liberals, Race, and Empire (2020, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Essay collection, scattered subjects, many pointing out how western liberals have often fallen short of their proclaimed ideals, especially where empires and colonies are concerned. Born in India, based in UK, wrote substantial histories both of western political thought (Age of Anger: A History of the Present) and of colonial efforts to come to grips with it (From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia).
Anne Nelson: Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right (2019, Bloomsbury): On the Council for National Policy, founded in 1981 by "a group of some fifty Republican operatives, evangelicals, oil barons, and gun lobbyists . . . to coordinate their attack on civil liberties and the social safety net," developing into "a strategic nerve center for channeling money and mobilizing votes behind the scenes." The group includes and/or aligns with many of the better known financiers of the far-right, like the Koch, Mercer, and DeVos families. Follows the money.
John Nichols: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party: The Enduring Legacy of Henry Wallace's Antifascist, Antiracist Politics (2020, Verso): FDR's Agriculture Secretary, and pick for Vice President in 1940, was booted off the ticket in 1944 in a revolt that elevated Harry Truman to president after Roosevelt's death in 1945 instead of the more progressive Wallace. One of the great unanswerable questions is whether as President Wallace would have steered the US away from the "Cold War" conflict with the Soviet Union and made the UN a more viable international organization. Wallace did run in 1948, promising to restore cooperation with the Soviet Union, and was subjected to a merciless barrage of red-baiting, and was defeated so decisively that he was never again a factor in American politics, so whatever "fight for the soul" Nichols imagines must have occurred, and been lost, much earlier. Wallace was a genuinely interesting figure, worth taking a closer look at, though more for his transition from Republican farmer advocate to ardent New Dealer than for his place in any pantheon of Democratic Party progressives. I doubt Nichols is doing anyone any favors by tacking pictures of Jesse Jackson, Bernie Sanders, and AOC onto the cover along with Wallace and FDR. Other books on Wallace:
Robert D Putnam: The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again (2020, Simon & Schuster): Sociologist, wrote the famous Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000), flawed most by the failure of revival. He's still looking and hoping here, the new insight being the recognition that highly individualistic times today aren't unprecedented -- he looks back to the Gilded Age of the late 1800s -- and sees an alternative in the more egalitarian New Deal/Great Society period.
Thomas Rid: Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare (2020, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Starts with the Russian Revolution, which its protagonists saw as the first step toward worldwide class revolution, and its enemies saw as a threat to their class privileges and imperial force. Therefore, the book is largely organized around the Cold War, although the techniques and ulterior motives for lying and misrepresenting are a much broader subject.
Josh Rogin: Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the Twenty-First Century (2021, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Washington Post/CNN correspondent, focuses on Trump's incoherent and ineffective grappling with China. One might draw useful lessons from recent history, but Rogin's "battle of the twenty-first century" shows no understanding beyond a flair for headlines. It's not unusual for unreflective people to project their own views onto others, so it's not surprising that many Americans suspect that China seeks to rule the world -- the first fallacy there is that while the US has been fortunate to gain widespread acceptance of its ordering principles, the US never has ruled the world, and never can. Much of the world has tolerated US leadership only so long as it's been benign, which is what Trump's "America First" rhetoric threatened to undo. China's offense has been to play the US-led system to its advantage, growing its own wealth at a rate far exceeding America's, with enough size and technology to match or exceed the US. More on China and/or superpower rivalry:
PS: Shortly after posting, I ran into another batch of books I should have included here:
Amity Shlaes: Great Society: A New History (2019, Harper): Right-wing historian, was employed by the GW Bush library (although I don't see that in her credits; instead, she won a Hayek Book Prize, wrote for the Wall Street Journal editorial board, and "chairs the board of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation"). Her mission in life is to show that everything good in American politics was really bad (e.g., her book on the New Deal, The Forgotten Man), and vice versa (see her Coolidge). This extends the hatchet job to LBJ's social welfare programs, including the immensely popular Medicare. According to Alan Greenspan, this "reads like a novel" (meaning like it was made up?), "covering the high hopes and catastrophic missteps of our well-meaning leaders." The only "catastrophic misstep" I can clearly attribute to LBJ was the Vietnam War, but that's probably now what these right-wing assholes have in mind. The fact is, the War on Poverty [sic] was very successful until Nixon came along and put Donald Rumsfeld in charge of the Office of Economic Development.
Robert Skidelsky: What's Wrong With Economics? (2020, Yale University Press): Has written a major biography of John Maynard Keynes, as well as several other interesting books. Fair to say he follows Keynes' model, but more important is that like Keynes he stops to ask what good is economics for how we live, for us to enjoy our lives. That's still pretty radical within what many of its protagonists like to call the "dismal science."
Jerome Slater: Mythologies Without End: The US, Israel, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1917-2020 (2020, Oxford University Press): A substantial (512 pp) effort to cover the whole history of the conflict, from the Zionist plan to colonize Palestine, British sponsorship of the project, the founding of Israel and the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians, through Israel's subsequent wars with Arab states and the Palestinian people. Extra focus on American attitudes and policies, which have vacillated between peacemaking efforts and reflexive support for Israel's military and colonial projects, which have made peace impossible (or, at least to right-wing Israelis, undesirable). Should take its place as the best introductory text for Americans. Other recent books:
Stephen R Soukup: The Dictatorship of Woke Capital: How Political Correctness Captured Big Business (2021, Encounter Books): Few things are more galling to the far-right than how the very corporations they work so hard to enrich betray them by trying to come off as "woke" -- anti-racist, pro-LGBTQ, sensitive to women and/or the environment. They see this as the sinister effect of the Left's "slow, methodical battle for control of the institutions of Western civilization," as opposed to a mere bottom-line calculation that there's no profit in insulting and degrading diverse customers and citizens. (Of course, where there is a profit to be gained from war, fraud, and/or ruin, there are plenty of corporations eager to jump in.) Of course, this is just one example of the crazed stupidity that the right publishes. For more recent examples:
Paul Starr: Entrenchment: Wealth, Power, and the Constitution of Democratic Societies (2019, Yale University Press). The concept here is how political actors try to perpetuate their rule by locking in (entrenching) their agenda, to make it hard to change or undo even if they lose power. Some of this is baked into the system, like the Constitution's supermajority requirement for amendments and impeachment, as well as built-in biases like equal representation for states. Some have been contrived (but are defended as tradition), like gerrymandering and the filibuster. Needless to say, conservatives are more dedicated to entrenchment than progressives (although FDR made a point how Social Security was designed to make it impossible to take away). The Republican obsession with packing the courts is probably the most obvious and ambitious example of entrenchment. Starr provides historical examples of entrenchment, and sometimes overcoming it, as with slavery.
Ned and Constance Sublette: The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry (2016; paperback, 2017, Lawrence Hill): Major history of slavery in America, from its introduction to emancipation, with particular emphasis on the business of breeding and selling people. Blurb describes this as "an alternative history," but since when does focusing on the real costs of slavery without sparing the feelings of dead politicians alternative? Sounds like what history should do. Ned Sublette previously wrote major books on Cuban music and New Orleans, while Constance Sublette has written several novels. Other recent books on slavery (and its aftermath):
PS: Shortly after posting, I ran into another batch of books I should have included here:
David Vine: The United States of War: A Global History of America's Endless Conrflicts, From Columbus to the Islamic State (2020, University of California Press): The phrase "endless war" is a recent coinage, reflecting the fact that the very definition of the Global War on Terrorism ensures that there will always be challengers, even in the unlikely chance where "victory" appears total -- not that there are any such cases. Still, given the forward-looking concept, it's tempting to also look back, and Vine finds so many wars so far back they all blur into endlessness. More specifically, he reminds us that America was founded in conquest and occupation, bound to belief in racial and cultural superiority, and those factors have tainted all subsequent wars. Indeed, they define the blind fault lines of recent failures. After all, what is an endless war but one that cannot be won by a nation too blind to accept its futility? Vine previously wrote Base Nation: How American Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World (2015, Metropolitan Books).
Stephen Wertheim: Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of US Global Supremacy (2020, Belknap Press): Starts with an introductory section on what "internationalism" meant before interventionists -- the small sliver of elites eager to join the war against Germany, as they had in 1917 -- coined the term to slander those who recognized George Washington's warnings against foreign alliances and standing armies, many of whom were in favor of agreements to limit or outlaw war, and who supported America's "open door" trade policies. The rest of the book covers the evolving thinking of said elites during a narrow slice of time, from the fall of France in May 1940 to the defeat of Germany and Japan in 1945. Early on, when Germany seemed likely to be a long-term world power, those elites flirted with the idea of some kind of regional hegemons, where the US, UK, and Germany could split up the world. (Russia, China, and Japan were afterthoughts, at best.) But rather quickly, the elites gravitated to a postwar aim of world dominance, which became possible as the German invasion of the Soviet Union stalled, and the US entered the war both in Europe and the Pacific. Indeed, by the time the war was won, the US had bases strung all around the world, and a manufacturing economy that exceeded the rest of the world. The book doesn't cover how this ambition and capability for world domination was then refashioned into a struggle against communism and its potential anti-colonial allies, but the notion that the US should dominate all around the world made both the quest and the resistance that resulted all but inevitable. Indeed, the only force that might have throttled those ambitions was the traditional American aversion to empire and foreign entanglements, which was neatly bottled up as "isolationism" and disparaged by the postwar Red Scare. Recent books on post-WWII foreign policy, up to the present moment, where interventionist disasters have led to ever more strident denunciations of isolationism:
Daniel Yergin: The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations (2020, Penguin Press). He wrote a big history of the oil industry -- The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (1991) -- and parlayed his reputation into a consulting company, closely aligned with the industry and hostile to those pesky climate change obsessives. So his "maps" are closely aligned with the supply of oil and gas, with only the last two (of six) sections briefly considering anything else -- most likely not as necessary change but as marginal risks.
Julian E Zelizar: Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party (2020, Penguin Press): The history of the Republican Party from 1968 on presents us with a series of major figures who tried (and partly succeeded) in moving the political world ever further to the right. Nixon may look like a liberal in retrospect, and Reagan may look like a folksy optimist, but they were among the most successful at finding pressure points that worked for the right. The line moves on through Newt Gingrich, GW Bush, and Donald Trump. This covers Gingrich, who relative to his time was probably the most extreme and ruthless, leaving in his wake an unprecedentedly shameless militancy in the Republican rank-and-file.
Fareed Zakaria: Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World (2020, WW Norton): Always quick on the draw -- his most famous book is The Post-American World (2008, revised as Release 2.0 in 2011) -- he is the first semi-famous person to weigh in on how the pandemic will change things, at least at book length. The most common take elsewhere is that it won't change things so much as accelerate pre-existing trends, something he's collected a huge dossier on. Still, I can't say as I'm impressed by "lessons" like: "What Matters Is Not the Quantity of Government but the Quality," "Markets Are Not Enough," "Life Is Digital," "Inequality Will Get Worse," "Globalization Is Not Dead," and "The World Is Becoming Bipolar." I wouldn't have bothered, but this was the best hook I could find on which to hang -- most "post-pandemic" books published so far are pitched at investors, some appearing as early as April 2020 (I've skipped the earliest):
Other recent books of interest, barely noted:
Stacey Abrams: Lead From the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change (paperback, 2019, Picador): Retitled reissue of her 2018 book, Minority Leader: How to Lead From the Outside and Make Real Change.
Stacey Abrams: Our Time Is Now (2020, Henry Holt).
Theodor W Adorno: Aspects of the New Right-Wing Extremism (paperback, 2020, Polity): A lecture from 1967.
Nancy J Altman: The Truth About Social Security: The Founders' Words Refute Revisionist History, Zombie Lies, and Common Misunderstandings (paperback, 2018, Strong Arm Press).
Hunter Biden: Beautiful Things: A Memoir (2021, Gallery Books).
John Boehner: On the House: A Washington Memoir (2021, St Martin's Press): Former Speaker of the House (R-OH, 1991-2015).
Hal Brands/Charles Edel: The Lessons of Tragedy: Statecraft and World Order (2019, Yale University Press).
Ian Bremmer: Us vs Them: The Failure of Globalism (2018, Portfolio).
Dorothy A Brown: The Whiteness of Wealth: How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans -- and How We Can Fix It (2021, Crown).
Wendy Brown: In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West (paperback, 2019, Columbia University Press): "The Wellek Library Lectures."
Jessica Bruder: Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century (paperback, 2018, WW Norton): The book behind the movie.
Robert Bryce: A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations (2020, Public Affairs).
William J Burns: The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal (2019; paperback, 2020, Random House): Former State Department official, Ambassador to Russia (2005-08), now Biden's CIA Director.
W Joseph Campbell: Lost in a Gallup: Polling Failure in US Presidential Elections (2020, University of California Press): Chronicles repeated polling failures from 1936 through 2016, just in time for another one in 2020.
James R Copland: The Unelected: How an Unaccountable Elite Is Governing America (2020, Encounter Books): Conservative think tank fellow attacks the regulatory state. Same title could be written from the left.
Tammy Duckworth: Every Day Is a Gift: A Memoir (2021, Twelve): US Senator (D-IL).
Joan Didion: Let Me Tell You What I Mean (2021, Knopf): Essay collection.
Ben Ehrenreich: Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time (2020, Counterpoint).
Bill Gates: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need (2021, Knopf).
Henry Louis Gates Jr: The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song (2021, Penguin Press).
Ruth Bader Ginsburg/Amanda L Tyler: Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue: A Life's Work Fighting for a More Perfect Union (2021, University of California Press).
Thom Hartmann: The Hidden History of American Oligarchy: Reclaiming Our Democracy From the Ruling Class (paperback, 2021, Berrett-Koehler).
David Harvey: A Companion to Marx's Capital: The Complete Edition (paperback, 2018, Verso): 768 pp.
Theo Horesh: The Fascism This Time: And the Global Future of Democracy (paperback, 2020, Cosmopolis Press).
Wiliam G Howell/Terry M Moe: Presidents, Populism, and the Crisis of Democracy (paperback, 2020, University of Chicago Press).
Adam Jentleson: Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy (2021, Liveright).
Garett Jones: 10% Less Democracy: Why You Should Trust Elites a Little More and the Masses a Little Less (2020, Stanford University Press).
Irshad Manji: Don't Label Me: An Incredible Conversation for Divided Times (2019, St Martin's Press).
Piers Morgan: Wake Up: Why the World Has Gone Nuts (2020, Harper Collins).
Ilhan Omar: This Is What America Looks Like: My Journey From Refugee to Congresswoman (2020, Dey Street Books): US Representative (D-MN).
Ben Sheehan: OMG WTF Does the Constitution Actually Say? A Non-Boring Guide to How Our Democracy Is Supposed to Work (2020, Black Dog & Leventhal). Executive producer at Funny or Die, founder of OMG WTF in six battleground states, "projects he's been involved with have received over a billion views."
Cass R Sunstein: Too Much Information: Understanding What You Don't Want to Know (2020, MIT Press).
Cass R Sunstein: Liars: Falsehoods and Free Speech in an Age of Deception (2021, Oxford University Press).
Julia Sweig: Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight (2021, Random House).
Michael Swanson: The War State: The Cold War Origins of the Military-Industrial Complex and the Power Elite, 1945-1963 (paperback, 2013, CreateSpace).
Joe William Trotter Jr: Workers on Arrival: Black Labor in the Making of America (2019, University of California Press).
Friday, October 16, 2020
Having pushed all the Trump books out earlier this week, here's a batch of 40 more book blurbs, plus another 110 books briefly noted -- 48 in the following section, plus 62 tacked onto main section notes. [PS: Added some books after this count. Also note that I added more Trump-related books to the previous post.]
I find this exercise useful to keep track of what the world knows -- at least, what knowledgeable people in America are saying about what concerns them. But there's also an element of nostalgia at work here. For most of my life, I visited book stores two or more times a week, spending innumerable hours poking through the shelves. I slacked off when Borders was driven out of business. Hasn't helped that Barnes & Noble has mostly turned into a toy store. Blame it on Amazon if you want, but they're my main source for these notes.
Still, I keep feeling that I'm not getting as systematic a survey as I'd like. Amazon has replaced their related suggestions with "books you may like," which are so redundant from page to page that they smell like ads. Their browsing system is even lamer, leading me at times to search for other sources -- to little avail. I keep thinking this list is rather arbitrary. In fact, I have as many book titles jotted down in my draft file, but didn't feel like writing up at the moment of discovery, and haven't taken the time to backtrack. Meanwhile, I'm including Ted Cruz, because the moment I saw the book I knew what to say.
I was figuring four times a year would be a reasonable pace, but then came up with the idea of briefly noting titles I didn't feel like writing about. That probably reduces the need to 2-3 times per year. This is the second this year (not counting the two Trump sets). Could do a third, but may not get to it.
Books from the main section I've read so far: Danielle S Allen: Our Declaration; Thomas Frank: The People, No; Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Let Them Eat Tweets. Just started Sheri Berman: Democracy and Dicatorship in Europe, and have Kurt Andersen: Evil Geniuses on deck. I haven't updated the archive yet. It's too big to be useful for readers, but I use it to check whether I've written on a book before. As such, I need to get it updated before working on a new installment. I've jotted down enough book titles for another post, but don't plan on writing them up until after the election.
Danielle S Allen: Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality (2014; paperback, 2015, Liveright): A deep reading of all 1,337 words, often taking several chapters to work through a single sentence, disentangling multiple authors and printers who added their own distinct touches, the historical context, and the debates that were ultimately obscured in compromise. I've long been convinced that the only way to gain agreement is through equality, and Allen shows how this works in very specific ways.
Kurt Andersen: Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America (2020, Random House): More of a novelist and humor writer (3 and 5 books respectively -- a 1980 humor title is Tools of Power: The Elitist's Guide to the Ruthless Exploitation of Everybody and Everything) until recently, when he tried to sum up the whole of American history as Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire (2017), offers a brief recap of the 1970s and before, then surveys the many things that have gone wrong since -- I assume properly assigning blame to right-wingers who fit the title, not that there haven't been plenty more who came up a bit short in the "genius" department.
Anne Applebaum: Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism (2020, Doubleday): Like Timothy Snyder, an historian who thinks her research on Eastern Europe -- e.g., Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine (2018) -- gives her the authority to comment on the rise of illiberalism and the eclipse of democracy under Republicans in America. While it can be occasionally amusing to compare Republican Party discipline to Soviet apparatchiki, it misses much, like the fundamental Communist commitment to serve the working class -- nothing like that among America's anti-democrats. Isn't it much more likely to find anti-democratic roots in American history, with its legacy of colonial rule, slavery, capitalism, and empire?
Sheri Berman: Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe: From the Ancien Régime to the Present Day (2019, Oxford University Press): A broad comparative history of political systems in Western Europe -- the table of contents doesn't offer anything east of Germany and Italy, or earlier than the late 18th century, but the introduction starts earlier and looks further. Lots of recent books on current threats to democracy from would-be dictators, but few go back further than the 1930s, obscuring two essential points: the promise of democracy was to expand and equalize power, in most cases achieved only through revolution against autocracy; would-be dictators almost always sought to defend or restore autocratic power. Of course, the earlier term was aristocracy, but conservatives have proven flexible enough to stand up for any class that enjoys the privileges of wealth.
David Brooks: The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life (2019, Random House): Right-wing pundit/hack, likes to exult the moral superiority of conservatives, a profession of whitewashing that's been hard to sustain since Trump became his followers' leader. This seems to have nudged him into resistance, but here he mainly tunnels into his own personal conviction of moral superiority, thinking that will protect him from the evils of his former comrades, as well as from the masses he's always dedicated himself to keeping in their place.
Lee Camp: Bullet Points and Punch Lines: The Most Important Commentary Ever Written on the Epic American Tragicomedy (paperback, 2020, PM Press). Left political commentator, has a rep as a comedian, but his chapter titles aren't very funny -- "The Pentagon Can't Account for 21 Trillion Dollars (That's Not a Typo)," "Nearly 100 Thousand Pentagon Whistleblower Complaints Have Been Silenced," "Everyone Has Fallen for Lies about Venezuela," "Trump's Miliary Drops a Bomb Every 12 Minutes, and No One Is Talking about It," etc.), and each piece comes with footnotes. Jimmy Dore (another "comedian") wrote the introduction, and Chris Hedges (a moralist with no discernible sense of humor) the foreword. They, too, have books:
Sarah Chayes: On Corruption in America: And What Is at Stake (2020, Knopf): Journalist, covered the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, made herself at home there, wrote a book about how corruption undermined whatever best intentions some of the American occupiers might have had -- The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban (2006) -- winding up on the US payroll as "special advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff" on corruption. She moved on to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and wrote another big book on corruption: Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security. Here she finally reaches the major leagues, looking at corruption in America. Table of contents suggests her interests fade out past the 1990s, which is a shame considering that Trump's worth a long book all by himself. I guess it's hard to write history while it's still happening. Much as it's hard to rebuild a country while you're still blowing it to shit.
Ellis Cose: The Short Life & Curious Death of Free Speech in America (2020, Amistad). Journalist, twelfth book though I hadn't noticed any of the earlier ones, many dealing with racism. Blurb here describes this as "about the stranglehold the rich and powerful have on free speech." This fits in with my definition of advertising as not free but very expensive speech, priced to form a barrier to entry against those who cannot afford it. I'm not sure this even gets around to advertising, as he starts with hate speech and incitement to violence, and moves on to consider how the right's "defense" of "free speech" on campus attempts to stifle it. Some other books by Cose:
Ted Cruz: One Vote Away: How a Single Supreme Court Seat Can Change History (2020, Regnery): Seems like uncanny timing, but what he's really arguing is that losing a seat from the 5-4 right-wing majority would give "the left the power to curtail or even abolish the freedoms that have made our country a beacon to the world." I'd ask "what the fuck?" but he kindly enumerates the threat: "One vote preserves your right to speak freely, to bear arms, and to exercise your faith." Given that two of those are much more carefully protected by liberals, it really just comes down to the guns, doesn't it? Well, and things Cruz doesn't publicize, because they protect and further empower privileged elites, like Cruz.
David Dayen: Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power (2020, New Press): "Today, practically everything we buy, everywhere we shop, and every service we secure comes from a heavily concentrated market." This concentration generates most of the profits businesses enjoy, sucking money up to feed the ever-growing wealth of the very richest people on the planet. Focuses more on case studies than on statistical scale, but works even more inexorably there. Along with money, monopoly sucks up power, giving corporations and their masters ever more control over our lives. Dayen previously wrote Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street's Great Foreclosure Fraud (paperback, 2017, New Press). Other recent books on monopoly:
By the way, searching for "monopoly" also brought up some older books (one might even say classics):
Robert Draper: To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq (2020, Penguin Press): Seems like this whole saga has been recounted many times before, but I doubt it hurts to be reminded of how arrogant and mendacious the Bush administration was to sell their plot to invade and occupy Iraq. It's all but universally agreed now that doing so was a very foolish thing -- many of us could have told you so at the time, yet the self-conception of the neocons demanded that the war be pursued and insisted that its success was inevitable (their only debates were if, or more likely when, they'd push on through Syria and Iran). Draper's previous books include Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W Bush (2007).
Thomas Frank: The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism (2020, Metropolitan Books): Like myself, a Kansas-bred author with a long interest in and sympathy for the Peoples Party, which swept into power in Kansas around 1890, and fizzled as a political party after aligning with William Jennings Bryan's Democrats in 1896. Frank covers the opposition to Bryan in 1896, and the less successful opposition to Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, in some detail, finding common threads of "anti-populism." He then jumps to the present day, finding anti-populism once more on the rise, but anomalously among the coastal liberal elites who have taken over the Democratic Party -- a group he skewered in his 2016 book Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?. I'm less impressed by that part of the book. I don't doubt that liberal elites have their blind spots, but the right still embodies the anti-populism of 1896 and 1936 in near pristine form, and they're still the biggest problem.
Beth Gardiner: Choked: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution (2019, University of Chicago Press): Air quality decreased steadily in the US until laws were passed to regulate it in the 1970s -- laws which worked, although it's hard to say for how long given the Trump administration's resolve to limit enforcement of the regulations it isn't able to overturn directly. Elsewhere the situation is often worse -- in London, where the author lives, and even worse in places she visits like Poland and India. All told, "air pollution prematurely kills seven million people every year." Related:
Mary Grabar: Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation Against America (2019, Regnery). The book Grabar attacks is Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, which revisits American history with eyes open to the experiences and views of those people treated most harshly by American power -- people who have often been forgotten when respectable histories were written. Whether Zinn actually "turned a generation against America" is questionable. He certainly opened some eyes to past (and present) injustices, giving us a clearer idea of what needs to be changed in moving forward. He's also upset a lot of conservatives, who are happy with their myths.
Steven Greenhouse: Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor (2019, Knopf): Journalist, covered labor for New York Times 1983-2014, previously writing The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker (2008, Knopf), so he has a long, detailed view of the dismantling of labor power in America, but he should also be able to point out cases of increased worker militancy over the last few years, as well as the revived interest of left Democrats in unions. I'd expect there to be more books on this, but I'm having trouble finding them.
Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality (2020, Liveright): Authors have a long line of important books on the rise of the right since 2000 -- their The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care, and Retirement and How You Can Fight Back (2007) -- is one of the most insightful. This adds a few Trump ruffles, but is most important for reminding us that Trump's worst policies are long-term Republican projects, the purpose of which is to make the rich not just richer but more powerful, aiming to lock their advantages in well into the future.
Yuval Noah Harari: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018, Spiegel & Grau): Israeli historian, wrote big picture books like Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014) and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2017), takes a swing at a scattering of topics, like "Civilization" ("there is just one civilization in the world"), "Nationalism" ("global problems need global answers"), "War" ("never underestimate human stupidity"), "Ignorance" ("you know less than you think"), "Meaning" ("life is not a story").
Sarah Stewart Holland/Beth A Silvers: I Think You're Wrong (but I'm Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations 2019, Thomas Nelson): "Sarah from the left and Beth from the right," share a podcast called Pantsuit Politics, fill a small niche for folks who don't live in any of our self-defined, self-affirmed ideological ghettoes, who run into people from warring political camps and don't want to shy away from the subject. I think that's a different concern from the so-called centrists, who are often as narrow-minded as the extremists but are sneakier, pretending to be reasonable while trying to covertly push self-serving agendas. Related:
Seth Masket: Learning From Loss: The Democrats 2016-2020 (2020, Cambridge University Press): Democratic Party strategist, sees Joe Biden's nomination as "a strategic choice by a party that had elevated electability above all other concerns." That's far from the only possible lesson that could be discerned from Hillary Clinton's loss in 2016, but it's certainly true that the Democratic left is much more united behind Biden than the right/center would have been behind Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Whether Democrats can sell Biden to marginal voters (both ones tempted to vote for Trump or some other candidate and ones who prone to skipping the vote) remains to be seen. I'm no Biden fan, but I'm not unhappy with this resolution. But it's clear to me that another lesson from 2016 is that the Democrats have to learn to deliver results, and have to make a case and a stink when Republicans block them -- the sudden backtracking of Clinton in 1993 and Obama in 2009 led to catastrophic losses in Congress, and while both remained personally popular enough to win second terms, neither delivered on more than a tiny fraction of their campaign promises. Their loss of faith was a major factor in Hillary Clinton's loss in 2016.
Stephanie Kelton: The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People's Economy (2020, Public Affairs): All about MMT, which would seem to rationalize much more extensive government deficit spending than is commonly regarded as prudent. If valid, it would provide an answer to the naysayers who always reject left proposals by declaring them too expensive. I can't say as I understand it, and will note that many Keynesian economists remain skeptical or worse (and these are people who generally believe that more deficit spending is a good thing). Related:
Ibram X Kendi: How to Be an Antiracist (2019, One World): Historian, wrote a major book Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (2016), which explored five Amerian figures in depth: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, WEB DuBois, and Angela Davis. This book recounts his family life, events which revealed racism in various guises, leading to a taxonomy he contrasts with "antiracism"; some examples: "assimilationist"/"segregationist," "biological," "ethnic"; also "internalized racism." This book became a belated bestseller after the George Floyd killing.
Matthew C Klein/Michael Pettis: Trade Wars Are Class Wars: How Rising Inequality Distorts the Global Economy and Threatens International Peace (2020, Yale University Press): "A provocative look at how today's trade conflicts are caused by governments promoting the interests of elites at the expense of workers." That's certainly what happens when the US negotiates trade deals: businesses lobby for advantages (especially for the collection of rents on patents and copyrights), while opposition from unions concerned about jobs and wages is casually ignored. The US has run trade deficits ever since 1970, and that turns out to be an efficient way to transfer wealth from workers/consumers to the rich, as those deficits are recycled through the banks to help prop up the assets of the rich.
Richard Kreitner: Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America's Imperfect Union (2020, Little Brown): A history going back to the colonial period of movements to unite and divide the American colonies/states. While the history is interesting, its utility to thinking about the recent Red/Blue State split is less clear. Every state has a substantial purple minority, at least partly protected by the federal government and economic and cultural union. Division would increase polarization, both within and between nascent states. One could instead have looked at secession and division around the world, where the results have most often been ominous. Aside from numerous border clashes and internal purges, the most common result is an increase in government plunder and oligarchy. One critique I've seen of this book [actually, of the David French book below] is that it's way too optimistic. This is precisely the sort of subject which inspires high hopes and bitter disappointment.
David Paul Kuhn: The Hardhat Riot: Nixon, New York City, and the Dawn of the White Working-Class Revolution (2020, Oxford University Press): About the New York City mob -- supposedly unionized construction workers -- that went berserk attacking anti-war protesters in the days after the Kent State massacre in 1970. Nixon had escalated the war in Vietnam, and was rationalizing his act by claiming support of a "silent majority" of Americans, so he was delighted to see some such group emerge from silence. Nowadays, this is seen as a pivotal event in the turn of the white working class toward Republican reaction. It did seem to have a class aspect to it, given that at this point the antiwar movement was mostly associated with middle-class (and wealthier) students at universities (although veterans were becoming increasingly prominent).
Jill Lepore: If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future (2020, Liveright): Historian, major early work was on King Philip's War in the colonial period, but she's jumped around a lot, landing here post-WWII when computers were first used for Cold War propaganda and plotting political campaigns. I read a precis of this in The New Yorker and figured it to be a stand-alone essay, so I have no idea how she expanded that to 452 pages. Except, I guess, that "the future" is one of those expansive subjects.
Evan Osnos: Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now (2020, Scribner): New Yorker writer, looks like a quickie (192 pp) but not available until a week before the election (which is to say a week before the most important fact becomes known). Even so, there is very little serious competition, despite the fact that Biden has been a shoe-in for the nomination since mid-March, after having been the front-runner for most of 2015, and was well known long before. If anything, this pathetic list suggests that who he is or what he stands for hardly matters next to the horrors of his opponent. [October 27] Other Biden books (including previous mentions*):
Dave Rubin: Don't Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in an Age of Unreason (2020, Sentinel): Author, who describes himself as "a former progressive turned classical liberal," claims to have "the most-watched show about free speech and big ideas on YouTube." But his "free thinking" is mostly borrowed from Jordan Peterson, and his received nonsense is anything but free. Rather, it supports a factless rant against an imaginary left, which is based on his failure to understand the first thing about the real left, which is that all people deserve respect and support, in a way that fairly balances individual desires with collective needs. Classical liberalism started to understand that, before falling into a hedonism that celebrated the greediest individuals as they trampled over everyone else. They flatter themselves as "free thinkers" when all they really are is self-indulgent. It's all very sad.
Michael J Sandel: The Tyranny of Merit: What's Become of the Common Good? (2020, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Another look at the false promise and sordid reality of meritocracy -- the notion that people rise to their level of ability, which easily gets twisted around to rationalizing that inequality as it exists is a reflection of merit. Chris Hayes wrote a good book on this subject -- Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (2012), and there have been others, like Daniel Markovits: The Meritocracy Trap: How America's Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite (2019). Sandel is more of a philosopher, with previous books like Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? (2009), and What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (2012).
Jared Yates Sexton: American Rule: How a Nation Conquered the World but Failed Its People (2020, Dutton): I suppose you could say that the genius of the American political system is its ability to satisfy all special interests, as long as they aren't seen as impinging on one another (and by design they are rarely seen otherwise). This, rather than deep ideological beliefs, explains a lot of American foreign policy. Thus, the US happily does the bidding of companies in foreign countries. Conversely, interests that aren't strongly represented among Washington lobbyists have no clout, and their number includes almost everyone in the world. But sometimes, the indifference and casual cruelty of US foreign policy comes back to bite us, so maybe the system doesn't balance interests off so well after all? I think that's what the author is getting at here, but with Trump on the one hand and his neoliberal/neoconservative critics on the other, there's a lot of extra muck to wade through. But one has to conclude that the persistent practice of injustice abroad eventually leads to injustice at home.
David Shimer: Rigged: America, Russia, and One Hundred Years of Covert Electoral Interference (2020, Knopf): Tries to put Russia's "interference" with the 2016 US election into historical context, finding that both the US and Russia have mucked each other about, and much of the rest of the world, for a long time. He gets to 100 years by citing Russia's attempt to lead Communist Parties around the world through Comintern. Not sure whether he mentions that the US (like Great Britain and a few others) sent troops to Russia in 1918 to fight against the Revolution. (He does allow that "Foreign democracies assumed the Comintern had powers it did not.") Of more concern here is the recent cyberwarfare, not least because it seems like a low-risk way to do under-handed things. Sensible leaders would negotiate agreements to reduce or end the problem. Trump and Putin aren't sensible.
Bryant Simon: The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Sory of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives (2017, New Press): The story of a fire in a chicken processing plant in Hamlet, NC (1991), killing 25 workers -- an omen that the days of the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire are returning.
Neal Simon: Contract to Unite America: Ten Reforms to Reclaim Our Republic (2020, Real Clear Publishing): Author ran as an independent for Senate from Maryland, and lost, of course. He suffers from the typical myopia of centrists: thinking the two parties are mirror opposites, and insisting there is more common ground (and no crippling differences) between them than there is. Accordingly, his ten reforms are almost purely procedural: Open Primaries Act, Educated Electorate Act ("A nonpartisan Federal Debate Commission will be created to ensure the fairness and caliber of presidential and congressional election debates"), Term Limits Constitutional Amendment, Elections Transparency Act, Campaign Finance Constitutional Amendment ("Government may distinguish between corporations and people, and Congress and the states can apply reasonable limits on campaign spending"), Ballot Access Act, Fair Districts Act, Fair Representation Act, Congressional Rules, and Creating a Culture of Unity ("We call on our next president to form a bipartisan administration, for Congress to sign a civility pledge, for Americans to participate in national service, and for our schools to revive civics education"). The reality is that American politics has become polarized around the deepest divide of the modern era: between the rich and the masses. As self-appointed agents of the rich, the Republicans have come to view democracy as a trap, which is why they feel no qualms about lying, cheating, and stealing. And as they have become successful at exploiting loopholes and inequities in law and even in the Constitution, some Democrats are realizing that they, too, have to fight dirty, even if they can justify to themselves the need to restore and preserve democracy. Related:
Roberto Sirvent/Danny Haiphong: American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People's History of Fake News -- From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror (2019, Skyhorse): By "fake news" they mean propaganda, more specifically stories that were spun by apologists of power, hoping to convince people that Americans are more exceptional and more innocent than is plainly the case. I've long thought that "American exceptionalism" was a self-flattering myth wrapped around a set of trivial truths, such that you could never really pick it apart, even as it was used to justify unconscionable deeds. "American innocence" is harder to explain, no matter how far you go back or afield, so that angle poses a fat target for these authors.
Timothy Snyder: Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty From a Hospital Diary (paperback, 2020, Crown): The historian and author of On Liberty: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century got sick, and (barely) lived to write about it. Doesn't reflect well on the American health care system . . . or on American democracy, which are not unrelated.
Jim Tankersley: The Riches of This Land (2020, Public Affairs): The post-WWII economic boom built the most expansive middle class in American history, a novelty at the time, and today an increasingly distant memory. What happened? Good question, but I'm not so sure about his answer: "He begins by unraveling the real mystery of the American economy since the 1970s -- not where did the jobs go, but why haven't new and better ones been created to replace them." The secret of the middle class was never that everyone had all of the education and opportunity to get the best jobs they could. The secret was that all jobs, even menial ones, paid enough to live on. That didn't last because wages failed to keep up with inflation and productivity gains -- because workers got screwed coming and going. Of course, it's true that America was never as middle class as white folks thought, and that weakness started the slide.
Alex S Vitale: The End of Policing (paperback, 2018, Verso): This book and author got a fair amount of attention after the "defund the police" meme spread following the George Floyd murder. Matthew Yglesias wrote a review, finding Vitale's arguments not quite convincing. That's probably right in some final analysis, but unless you start to question the principles behind policing, prosecution, incarceration, etc., it's impossible to straighten out the mess we're in. For instance, I think we need more policing of spam and hacking on the Internet, but don't necessarily see jail as the solution. I looked through my books file and found just 12 references to "police" and 10 to "policing," including: Paul Butler: Chokehold: Policing Black Men (2017); Angela Davis, ed: Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (2017); Virginia Eubanks: Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor (2018); Jordan T Camp/Christina Heatherton, eds: Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter (2016); James Forman Jr: Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America (2017). A quick search uncovered some more (and no doubt still more will appear soon):
Isabel Wilkerson: Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (2020, Random House): A book on how inequality gets preserved and locked in inherited systems passed on from generation to generation. Compares several such systems, starting with the now-banned caste system in India. Wilkerson's specialty is Afro-American history -- her major book was The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (2010) -- so it's easy enough to see how one might try to view racial inequality through the lens caste provides. The third system Wilkerson considers is the race hierarchy instituted by Nazi Germany, but the latter was short-lived and frankly genocidal, whereas the American system lasted for hundreds of years, and the Indian one for thousands. No doubt this is informative, not least when she gets personal, but doesn't it obscure at least one key point? Inequality persists even after formal caste systems are ended, at which point isn't class the more relevant concept?
Meaghan Winter: All Politics Is Local: Why Progressives Must Fight for the States (2019, Bold Type Books): Title comes from former House Speaker Tip O'Neill's slogan, which in itself doesn't make it convincing or appealing. Still, the argument that the left needs to campaign everywhere is important. It's certainly something that the right understands, not least because in a multi-tiered political system any jurisdiction they can seize can be used to throttle opposition, to prohibit change, and to consolidate power. The right is always seeking to increase its power, thereby increasing inequality and injustice. Any success they have generates resistance, which makes for fertile ground for the left to organize. Or you could look at it from the wrong end of the telescope: we've actually had Democratic presidents with no interest or success at building local parties, and they've proven ineffective and sometimes downright dangerous.
Matthew Yglesias: One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger (2020, Portfolio): Possibly the most successful pundit of the blog era, parlayed that into co-founder of Vox, which is where I get a high percentage of my Weekend Roundup articles from. Won a poll as "neoliberal shill of the year" recently, which doesn't mean all the horrors we often associate with that label, but does still indicate a strong focus on market pricing mechanisms and unbounded growth. This book expands on his posts extolling the benefits of immigration, which is how he hopes to triple the population of the United States. Why that may even be a good thing is hard to say, but evidently he gins up old clichés about keeping or making American number one, faced as it is with competitors like China and India which already have their billion people. That's a really bad reason. By the way:
Daniel Ziblatt: Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy (paperback, 2017, Cambridge University Press): Co-author, with Steven Levitsky, of How Democracies Die (2018), a book much in vogue recently as Trump has eroded and further bespoiled the system of graft and manipulation that has long passed for democracy in America. In his comparative study of the growth of democracy in Europe from 1830 to 1933, Ziblatt argues that expansion of the vote has depended more on what conservative parties decided to allow than on collective action by the middle and/or working classes. Still, don't discount fear of revolution as motivation for conservatives -- Russia is the exception that proves the rule. Another formula for disaster: when conservative parties tried to claw back aristocratic privileges, as the fascists did in the 1920s and 1930s, and the Republicans have tried to do since 1980.
Other recent books, briefly noted.
Peter Baker/Susan Glasser: The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A Baker III (2020, Doubleday): 720 pp.
Susan Berfeld: The Hour of Fate: Theodore Roosevelt, JP Morgan, and the Battle to Transform American Capitalism (2020, Bloomsbury).
John O Brennan: Undaunted: My Fight Against America's Enemies, at Home and Abroad (2020, Caledon Books): Obama's CIA director.
Pete Buttigieg: Trust: America's Best Chance (2020, Liveright).
Irin Carmon/Shana Knizhnik: Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (2015, Dey Street Books).
Alexis Cole: You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington (2020, Viking).
Andrew Cuomo: American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the Covid-19 Pandemic (2020, Crown): New York governor.
Elizabeth Currid-Halkett: The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class (2017; paperback, 2018, Princeton University Press).
Jeremy Dauber: Jewish Comedy: A Serious History (paperback, 2018, WW Norton).
Alan Dershowitz: The Case for Liberalism in an Age of Extremism: Or, Why I Left the Left but Can't Join the Right (2020, Hot Books).
Robin DiAngelo: White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (paperback, 2018, Beacon Press).
Leonard Downie Jr: All About the Story: News, Power, Politics, and the Washington Post (2020, Public Affairs).
Rod Dreher: Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents (2020, Sentinel): "Crunchy Con."
Wolfram Ellenberger: Time of the Magicians: Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Cassirer, Heidegger, and the Decade That Reinvented Philosophy (2020, Penguin Press).
Abdul El-Sayed: Healing Politics: A Doctor's Journey Into the Heart of Our Political Epidemic (2020, Abrams Press).
Federico Finchelstein: A Brief History of Fascist Lies (2020, University of California Press).
Stanley Fish: The First: How to Think About Hate Speech, Campus Speeh, Religious Speech, Fake News, Post-Truth, and Donald Trump (2019, Atria/One Signal).
Raúl Gallegos: Crude Nation: How Oil Riches Ruined Venezuela (2016, Potomac Books).
Barton Gellman: Dark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State (2020, Penguin Press).
Daniel Q Gillion: The Loud Minority: Why Protests Matter in American Democracy (2020, Princeton University Press).
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: My Own Words (paperback, 2018, Simon & Schuster).
Philip H Gordon: Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East (2020, St Martin's Press).
Trey Gowdy: Doesn't Hurt to Ask: Using the Power of Questions to Communicate, Connect, and Persuade (2020, Crown Forum).
Ryan Grim: We've Got People: From Jesse Jackson to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement (paperback, 2019, Strong Arm Press): Looks like several years of reporting, perhaps going back to the 1980s, but such early stories are constructed (or selected) with an eye to the present.
Richard Haass: The World: A Brief Introduction (2020, Penguin Press). Bush administrations diplomat, Council on Foreign Relations.
Malcolm Harris: Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials (2017, Little Brown; paperback, 2018, Back Bay Books).
John Higgs: Stranger Than We Can Imagine: An Alternative History of the 20th Century (paperback, 2015, Soft Skull Press).
Katie Hill: She Will Rise: Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality (2020, Grand Central): Elected to Congress, resigned at first hint of scandal, wrote a book.
Harvey J Kaye: Take Hold of Our History: Make America Radical Again (paperback, 2019, Zero Books).
James Kirchick: The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age (2017, Yale University Press).
Jane Kleeb: Harvest the Vote: How Democrats Can Win Again in Rural America (2020, Ecco).
Anthony T Kronman: The Assault on American Excellence (2019, Free Press).
Lawrence Lessig: They Don't Represent Us: Reclaiming Our Democracy (2019, Dey Street Books).
Verlan Lewis: Ideas of Power: The Politics of American Party Ideology Development (paperback, 2019, Cambridge University Press).
Robert Jay Lifton: Losing Reality: On Cults, Cultism, and the Mindset of Political and Religious Zealotry (2019, New Press).
Fredrik Logevall: JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1956 (2020, Random House): 816 pp.
Eric Lonergan/Mark Blyth: Angrynomics (paperback, 2020, Agenda).
HR McMaster: Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World (2020, Harper).
Jon Meacham: His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope (2020, Random House). Major biographer, with books on Jefferson, Jackson, Franklin and Winston.
Russell Muirhead/Nancy L Rosenblum: A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy (2019, Princeton University Press).
Thomas E Patterson: How America Lost Its Mind: The Assault on Reason That's Crippling Our Democracy (2019, University of Oklahoma Press).
Thomas E Patterson: Is the Republican Party Destroying Itself? And Why It Needs to Reclaim Its Conservative Ideals (paperback, 2020, independent).
Joshua L Powell: Inside the NRA: A Tell-All Acount of Corruption, Greed, and Paranoia Within the Most Powerful Political Group in America (2020, Twelve): Author was a NRA senior strategist and chief of staff to NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre.
Markus Prior: Hooked: How Politics Captures People's Interest (paperback, 2019, Cambridge University Press).
Alex Ross: Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music (2020, Farrar Straus and Giroux). 784 pp.
Douglas Rushkoff: Team Human: Our Technologies, Markets, and Cultural Institutions -- Once Forces for Human Connection and Expression -- Now Isolate and Repress Us. It's Time to Remake Society Together, Not as Individual Players but as the Team We Actually Are (2019, WW Norton).
Jeffrey D Sachs: The Ages of Globalization: Geography, Technology, and Institutions (2020, Columbia University Press).
Mark Salter: The Luckiest Man: Life With John McCain (2020, Simon & Schuster): The late Senator's long-time ghostwriter.
Antonin Scalia: The Essential Scalia: On the Constitution, the Courts, and the Rule of Law (2020, Crown Forum).
Nathan Schneider: Everything for Everyone: The Radical Tradition That Is Shaping the Next Economy (2018, Bold Type Books).
Al Sharpton: Rise Up: Confronting a Country at the Crossroads (2020, Hanover Square Press).
Vandana Shiva: Who Really Feeds the World? The Failures of Agribusiness and the Promise of Agroecology (paperback, 2016, North Atlantic Books).
Margaret Sullivan: Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy (paperback, 2020, Columbia Global Reports): Washington Post media columnist, 105 pp.
Jennifer Taub: Big Dirty Money: The Shocking Injustice and Unseen Cost of White Collar Crime (2020, Viking).
George F Will: The Conservative Sensibility (2018; paperback, 2020, Hachette Books).
Leandra Ruth Zarnow: Battling Bella: The Protest Politics of Bella Abzug (2019, Harvard University Press).
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
More Trump Books
Back in May, I was working on a book roundup, my first since October 2019. I found I had so many books on Trump, his administration, and the 2020 presidential campaign that I thought it best to break them out into a separate post (see: Trump Books), before proceeding to a non-Trump Book Roundup a few days later. In an effort to be comprehensive, I did two things I don't normally do: I included a list of books I had previously noted (some with new or trimmed-down blurbs), and I looked ahead to identify forthcoming books up through the election. I thought I did a pretty thorough job, but it turns out I missed a bunch of books -- especially several bestsellers. I wrote a bit about them in the blog, including a general roundup note on September 7. I promised then to catch up with my next book roundup. Turns out that once again there's enough Trump material -- including a few forthcoming books -- to warrant a separate post.
Again, this will be followed shortly with a regular book roundup. This next post will cover several significant critiques of the Trump era, albeit ones that don't obsess over Trump himself -- prime examples are: Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality, and Thomas Frank: The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism. I may look at the Democratic Party side of the election, but there doesn't seem to be much new there -- I wrote up a fairly long list in the Trump Books post, under Dan Pfeiffer: Un-Trumping America: A Plan to Make America a Democracy Again -- but I do have something written for Seth Masket: Learning From Loss: The Democrats 2016-2020. I'm thinking I might hang a list of Joe Biden books under Evan Osnos' still-forthcoming biography, but it won't be very long.
* Book added since initial posting.
Michael Anton: The Stakes: America at the Point of No Return (2020, Regnery): Publisher is all the signal you need, but here's some background: Anton wrote a famous essay calling 2016 "The Flight 93 Election," because he figured it was better to storm the cockpit and crash the plane than to let Hillary Clinton win. He explains "the stakes" here: "The Democratic Party has become the party of 'identity politics' -- and every one of those identities is defined against a unifying national heritage of patriotism, pride in America's past, and hope for a shared future. . . . Against them is a divided Republican Party. Gravely misunderstanding the opposition, old-style Republicans still seek bipartisanship and accommodation, wrongly assuming that Democrats care about playing by the tiresome old rules laid down in the Constitution and other fundamental charters of American liberty." Previous and related:
Devlin Barrett: October Surprise: How the FBI Tried to Save Itself and Crashed an Election (2020, Public Affairs): How FBI head James Comey threw the 2016 election to Donald Trump -- "a pulsating narrative of an agency seized with righteous certainty that waded into the most important political moment in the life of the nation, and has no idea how to back out with dignity."
Maria Bartiromo/James Freeman: The Cost: Trump, China, and American Revival (2020, Threshold Editions). Fox Business face, name much larger on the cover of this propaganda tract, lashing out at Trump's enemies both within government and beyond, but especially "the Chinese communist government." Conclusion: "The destruction caused by the coronavirus is the latest and greatest test for the Trump prosperity agenda." [October 27]
Bob Bauer/Jack Goldsmith: After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency (paperback, 2020, Lawfare Institute): Fifty recommendations for reforming the Presidency, most likely sensible ones especially given the fears that electing a deranged sociopath like Trump elicits. Authors have worked in the White House under Bush II and Obama.
Paul Begala: You're Fired: The Perfect Guide to Beating Donald Trump (2020, Simon & Schuster): Chief strategist for the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign, ran a pro-Obama Super PAC in 2012, has co-authored two books with James Carville. Starts with a "Mea Culpa" for 2016, then a chapter on "Coronavirus," before he starts recycling his greatest hits (e.g., "It's Still the Economy, Stupid."
Tom Burgis: Kleptopia: How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World (2020, Harper): "He follows the dirty money that is flooding the global economy, emboldening dictators, and poisoning democracies. From the Kremlin to Beijing, Harare to Riyadh, Paris to the White House," warning that "the thieves are uniting," and "the human cost will be great." Previously wrote The Looting Machine: Warlords, Oligarchs, Corporations, Smugglers, and the Theft of Africa's Wealth (2015).
Michael Cohen: Disloyal: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J Trump (2020, Skyhorse): Given how many sensible policy reasons one can enumerate for opposing Trump, no one needs to read (much less pay for) this book. But if you want dirt, the premise here is that nobody knows more about a scumbag than another one.
Jerome R Corsi: Coup d'État: Exposing Deep State Treason and the Plan to Re-Elect President Trump (2020, Post Hill Press): Best-selling right-wing author and unindicted Roger Stone co-conspirator. Not sure how I missed this -- perhaps it seemed like a reprint of his 2018 book, Killing the Deep State: The Fight to Save President Trump. His conspiracy theories have the advantage of targeting unseen forces that are every bit as troubling to the left, if not to the sort of Democrats who get security clearances. On the other hand, I've missed Corsi books in the past. Here are some:
John W Dean/Bob Altemeyer: Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers (2020, Melville House): The conservative conscience of Nixon's Watergate scandal, became an outspoken critic of GW Bush -- cf. Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W Bush (2004), Conservatives Without Conscience (2006), and Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches (2007) -- was overdue for a broadside on Trump. Probably overwhelmed.
Norman Eisen: A Case for the American People: The United States V. Donald J Trump (2020, Crown): Democrats' special impeachment counsel on the House Judiciary Committee.
Greg Geisler: The Top 300 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Vote for Donald Trump (Even if You Are a Lifelong Republican) (paperback, 2020, independent). First one reads: "Trump is an existential threat to our republic. Trump derogates our long-standing, shared beliefs that have represented who we are as a nation:" -- then enumerates 20 such beliefs, and refers to "Appendix A" for quotes. Amazon's sample doesn't stops before number 3 ("Trump commits treason . . .") is done enumerating the many ways Trump appeases "our enemy, Russia." That's not even a point I would make.
Masha Gessen: Surviving Autocracy (2020, Riverhead Books): Russian, fled to New York as her vitriol against Vladimir Putin increased, has written extensively on him and the stifling of reform politics in Russia. Attempts to draw lessons from there for dealing with Trump here, although a key early chapter is "Waiting for the Reichstag Fire" -- reminding us that autocracy (and for that matter evil) takes various forms which reinforce common assumptions. I don't think it's necessary to view Trump as a malignancy comparable to Hitler or even Putin, but it's also no accident (and really no shame) that some people do.
Jeffrey Goldberg, ed: The American Crisis: What Went Wrong. How We Recover. (paperback, 2020, Simon & Schuster). Fairly substantial (576 pp) collection of essays from The Atlantic, including a 165 page section called "The Age of Trump." There's a lot here, like a 2018 article by Ed Yong called "When the Next Plague Hits" which predicts that Trump won't handle it well.
John R Hibbing: The Securitarian Personality: What Really Motivates Trump's Base and Why It Matters for the Post-Trump Era (2020, Oxford University Press). Posits a slight but key difference between Trump supporters and the supporters of 1930s fascist parties Theodor Adorno characterized in The Authoritarian Personality. These Trumpists crave "protection for themselves, their families, and their dominant cultural group from these embodied outsider threats," while other threats "such as climate change, Covid-19, and economic inequality" hardly phase them at all. That doesn't sound so different to me. Both feel aggrieved, blame others, and seek to crush them and gain privileges thereby, with few qualms about violence -- indeed, many relish the prospect.
Harold Holzer: The Presidents vs the Press: The Endless Battle Between the White House and the Media -- From the Founding Fathers to Fake News. By now there must be a whole shelf of books which pick a topic where Donald Trump is an extreme, unprecedented outlier, and show how the other 44 presidents had their own slightly checkered records. George Washington didn't like how the press treated him, but kept it to himself. John Adams had a much thinner skin. Theodor Roosevelt and John Kennedy were particularly adept at currying favor with reporters. Trump hasn't gone as far as Adams in banning unfavorable press, but he has weaponized the media in ways no one before imagined.
Stephen F Knott: The Lost Soul of the American Presidency: The Decline Into Demagoguery and the Prospects for Renewal (paperback, 2020, University of Kansas Press). Cover pictures George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and Donald Trump. Jackson and Trump count among the demagogues, with Knott blaming Jefferson for "paving the way" toward Jackson. Knott, a professor at the US Naval War College, cites several presidents who "resisted pandering": Washington, John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, William Howard Taft -- note that two of those were unpopular single-term rejects.
Carlos Lozada: What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era (2020, Simon & Schuster): A Washington Post book critic surveys "some 150 volumes claiming to diagnose why Trump was elected and what his presidency reveals about our nation," and finds them "more defensive than incisive, more righteous than right." I'd like to see the reading list. (Publisher website mentions, without giving authors: Hillbilly Elegy [JD Vance]; On Tyranny [Timothy Snyder]; No Is Not Enough [Naomi Klein]; How to Be an Antiracist [Ibram X Kendi]; The Corrosion of Conservatism [Max Boot].)
Suzanne Mettler/Robert C Lieberman: Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy (2020, St Martin's Press): History, explores four threats ("political polarization, racism and nativism, economic inequality, and excessive executive power") through "five moments in history when democracy in the US was under siege: the 1790s, the Civil War [1850s], the Gilded Age [the 1890s], the Depression [1930s], and Watergate [1970s]." As they point out, the present is no less grave.
James A Morone: Republic of Wrath: How American Politics Turned Tribal From George Washington to Donald Trump (2020, Basic Books): Historian, focuses on key elections including most of the ones in Suzanne Mettler/Robert C Lieberman: Four Threats: The Recurring Crises in American History. Polarization is symptomatic of those crises, although the causes are rooted more in injustices that cannot be easily resolved. Last chapter gloms 1968-2020 together as "We Win, They Lose" -- politics as a zero-sum game. Shouldn't be like that.
Michael S Schmidt: Donald Trump V. the United States: Inside the Struggle to Stop a President (2020, Random House): A detailed history more of the steps leading up to the special counsel appointment of Robert S Mueller than of the subsequent investigation, or the later impeachment case.
Allison Stanger: Whistleblowers: Honesty in America From Washington to Trump (2019, Yale University Press): Short book, the historical period ("From the Revolution to 9/11") a mere 106 pages but helps establish that the need to expose the secretive machinations of government isn't new with "The Internet Age" (the second, shorter part, with Edward Snowden getting his own chapter). Trump is mentioned in the title but slighted in the text: it was, after all, a "whistleblower complaint" that led to his impeachment charges, and that was just one of many, beyond the even more common leaks and efforts to halt them.
Peter Strzok: Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J Trump (2020, Houghton Mifflin): FBI Deputy Assistant Director of Counterintelligence, 22 years with the FBI focusing on Russian espionage threats, purged for his supposed hostility to Trump.
Kevin Sullivan/Mary Jordan: Trump on Trial: The Investigation, Impeachment, Acquittal, and Aftermath (2020, Scribner): Front cover also lists Washington Post, and a "previous books" page leads with four of the newspaper's books, followed by books by Sullivan and/or Jordan. Title page adds "Steve Luxenberg, Editor." They say journalism is the first draft of history, and that's what you get here: yesterday's yellowed papers.
Kristin B Tate: The Liberal Invasion of Red State America (2020, Regnery). Curiously, she tries to have it both ways: claiming there's an exodus from blue states because Democrats have made it too expensive to live there, but also blaming those same "refugees" for making red states purplish or even blue (Colorado and New Hampshire are examples of the latter). A serious scholar could try to refine this further, but wouldn't get her book published by Regnery.
Mary L Trump: Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man (2020, Simon & Schuster): The President's niece, daughter of his older brother Fred Jr, also flaunts her PhD in psychology, which gives her a unique angle, and an insider advantage over the other shrinks who have merely imagined Trump on their couches. It's one thing to check off the boxes on mental maladies like narcissistic personality disorder, another to locate their causes in this peculiar family dynamic.
Madeleine Westerhout: Off the Record: My Dream Job at the White House, How I Lost It, and What I Learned (2020, Center Street). Former executive assistant to Trump. Not clear what her faux pas was, but even after being fired she's still sucking up to Trump.
Tim Weiner: The Folly and the Glory: America, Russia, and Political Warfare 1945-2020 (2020, Henry Holt): Author of major books on the CIA (Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA) and the FBI (Enemies: A History of the FBI). The Cold War chapters are probably old hat, succinctly told, but I have to wonder how deep he gets into the post-Soviet era, especially US efforts to rig elections in the Ukraine, and even in Russia itself (Yeltsin was not a US puppet, but various Clinton aides worked for his election).
Andrew Weissmann: Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation (2020, Random House): Lead prosecutor under Mueller, whose unredacted report still hasn't been made public.
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff: Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship With the First Lady (2020, Gallery Books): Former aide to Mrs. Trump, "trusted adviser," and event planner, burns a friendship going back to 2003, revealing both author and subject to be as vain and tedious as you'd expect.
Bob Woodward: Rage (2020, Simon & Schuster): The exalted court reporter's second Trump book, after 2018's Fear, burned some bridges this time, especially with his February recording of a semi-coherent understanding of the coronavirus pandemic threat even before he started minimizing the threat in public, paving the way for his incompetent management -- the only sense in which he can claim to have made America "number one."
More Trump books are briefly noted below. I'm roughly dividing this into two lists: the first is by Trump/Republican partisans, which should give you an idea of how deceitful and/or deranged they can be; the other not just by opponents, but includes academics and other writers who strive to be fair, balanced, and objective. Of course, those who succeed, and retain a shred of concern for their fellows, wind up being opponents. The top section includes some of both, but they should be easy enough to sort out from the blurbs. (If you need help, I would have filed the following under propaganda: Anton, et al.; Bartiromo; Corsi; Tate; Westerhout. Several others started out in the Trump camp, or at least counted themselves as conservatives, before developing doubts.)
Trump propaganda, briefly noted:
TM Ballantyne Jr: Trump: The First 100 Days: The Assault Intensifies (paperback, 2017, Ballantyne Books).
Allum Bokhari: #Deleted: Big Tech's Battle to Erase the Trump Movement and Steal the Election (2020, Center Street).
Dan Bongino: Follow the Money: The Shocking Deep State Connections of the Anti-Trump Cabal (2020, Post Hill Press). [October 6]
Brian Burch: A New Catholic Moment: Donald Trump and the Politics of the Common Good (paperback, 2020, independent).
*Michael R Caputo: The Ukraine Hoax: How Decades of Corruption in the Former Soviet Republic Led to Trump's Phony Impeachment (2020, Bombardier Books).
Steve Cioccolanti: President Trump's Pro-Christian Accomplishments (paperback, 2020, Discover Media).
Dan Crenshaw: Fortitude: American Resilience in the Era of Outrage (2020, Twelve): A "rising star in Republican politics."
Dinesh D'Souza: United States of Socialism: Who's Behind It. Why It's Evil. How to Stop It. (2020, All Points Books).
*Tom Fitton: A Republic Under Assault: The Left's Ongoing Attack on American Freedom (2020, Threshold Editions). [October 20]
Matt Gaetz: Firebrand: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the MAGA Revolution (2020, Bombardier Books).
*Rick Gates: Wicked Game: An Insider's Story on How Trump Won, Mueller Failed, and America Lost (2020, Post Hill Press).
Sean Hannity: Live Free or Die: American (and the World) on the Brink (2020, Threshold Editions).
Mike Huckabee/Steve Feazel: The Three Cs That Made America Great: Christianity, Capitalism and the Constitution (2020, Trilogy Christian Publishing).
Jerome Hudson: 50 Things They Don't Want You to Know About Trump (paperback, 2020, Harper Collins): Entertainment editor at Breitbart.com. [October 27]
Michael Knight: President Trump and the New World Order: The Ramtha Trump Prophecy (paperback, 2017, North Star).
*Fred V Lucas: Abuse of Power: Inside the Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump (2020, Bombardier).
*Theodore Roosevelt Malloch/Felipe J Cuello: Trump's World: Geo Deus (2020, Humanix Books).
Matt Margolis: Airborne: How the Liberal Media Weaponized the Coronavirus Against Donald Trump (paperback, 2020, Bombardier Books).
Florance McKoy: What Donald Trump Means to America: A Black Woman Shares What God Shows Her About This 45th President of the United States (paperback, 2020, Impact Communications).
Devin Nunes: Countdown to Socialism (paperback, 2020, Encounter Books).
Candace Owens: Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape From the Democrat Plantation (2020, Threshold Editions).
Carter Page: Abuse and Power: How an Innocent American Was Framed in an Attempted Coup Against the President (2020, Regnery).
TJ Paine: Qanon Phenomenon: A Detailed Report on the "Storm" That Is About to Destroy the Deep State That Conspires Against the United States and on the "Great Awakening" That Will Make America Great Again! (paperback, 2020, independent).
Rand Paul: The Case Against Socialism (2019, Broadside Books).
Jeanine Pirro: Don't Lie to Me: And Stop Trying to Steal Our Freedom (2020, Center Street).
Joel B Pollak: Red November: Will the Country Vote Red for Trump or Red for Socialism? (2020, Center Street).
Phil Robertson: Jesus Politics: How to Win Back the Soul of America (2020, Thomas Nelson): Duck Dynasty dude.
Darrell Scott: Nothing to Lose: Unlikely Allies in the Struggle for a Better Black America (2020, Post Hill Press).
Robert Isaac Skidmore: Edge of the Abyss: The Usefulness of Antichrist Terminology in the Era of Donald Trump (2020, Chiron Publications).
Lee Smith: The Permanent Coup: How Enemies Foreign and Domestic Targeted the American President (2020, Center Street).
Franko Solar: The Sky Is Falling! Blame Trump: Why Democrats Want to Impeach Donald J Trump (paperback, 2020, La Maison).
Neville Teller: Trump and the Holy Land 2016-2020: The Deal of the Century (paperback, 2020, Troubador).
Cal Thomas: America's Expiration Date: The Fall of Empires and Superpowers . . . and the Future of the United States (paperback, 2020, Zondervan).
Donald Trump Jr: Liberal Privilege: Joe Biden and the Democrats' Defense of the Indefensible (2020, Donald J Trump Jr).
Harry Turtledove/James Morrow/Cat Rambo: And the Last Trump Shall Shound: A Future History of America (paperback, 2020, Caezik).
Kendall L Walker: A Biblical Evaluation of the Morals and Ethics of Donald Trump (paperback, 2020, independent).
Other Trump-related books, briefly noted. These are not necessarily useful or interesting, but aren't obviously right-wing propaganda. My earlier post included a whole section of humor/parody books, but I didn't find more of those worth noting. (Humor has been invaluable during the last 3.75 years, but I'm not feeling it at the moment.)
Daniel Allott: On the Road in Trump's America: A Journey Into the Heart of a Divided Nation (2020, Republic). [October 20]
*Christopher F Arndt: The Right's Road to Serfdom: The Danger of Conservatism Unbound: From Hayek to Trump (paperback, 2016, Bulkington Press).
*Anthony Atamanuik/Neil Casey: American Tantrum: The Donald J Trump Presidential Archives (paperback, 2019, Harper Collins): Satire.
Isaac J Bailey: Why Didn't We Riot? A Black Man in Trumpland (2020, Other Press). [October 6]
Amanuel Biedemariam: The History of the USA in Eritrea: From Franklin D Roosevelt to Barack Obama and How Donald Trump Changed the Course of History (paperback, 2020, Lulu.com).
Nina Burleigh: The Trump Women: Part of the Deal (paperback, 2020, Gallery Books).
*Geraldo Cadava: The Hispanic Republican: The Shaping of an American Political Identity, From Nixon to Trump (2020, Ecco).
Zachary Callen/Philip Rocco, eds: American Political Development and the Trump Presidency (2020, University of Pennsylvania Press).
SV Dáte: The Useful Idiot: How Donald Trump Killed the Republican Party With Racism and the Rest of Us With Coronavirus (paperback, 2020, independent).
*Bill Eddy: Why We Elect Narcissists and Sociopaths: And How We Can Stop! (2019, Berrett-Koehler).
*Randolph M Feezell: The ABCs of Trump: Asshole, Bullshitter, Chauvinist, Essays on Life in Trumpworld (2020, Randolph M Feezell).
Sally Frazer: Fire & Blood, Fire & Fury: Daenerys Targaryen, Donald Trump, and the American Public's Enduring Susceptibility to Authoritarian Figures (paperback, 2020, independent).
*John Gartner: All I Ever Wanted to Know About Donald Trump I Learned From His Tweets: A Psychological Exploration of the President Via Twitter (paperback, 2017, Skyhorse).
Mark Green/Ralph Nader: Wrecking America: How Trump's Lawbreaking and Lies Betray All (paperback, 2020, Skyhorse).
*Lawrence Grossberg: Under the Cover of Chaos: Trump and the Battle for the American Right (paperback, 2018, Pluto Press).
Michael B Harrington: The Forty Year Con Game: Everything You Need to Know About Donald Trump's Threat to Democracy (paperback, 2019, Author Solutions).
Kelly Hyman: Top Ten Reasons to Dump Trump in 2020 (paperback, 2019, Strauss Consultants).
*Charlie Laderman/Brendan Simms: Donald Trump: The Making of a World View (paperback, 2017, Bloomsbury Academic).
*Yuval Levin: A Time to build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream (2020, Basic Books): AEI.
*Matt K Lewis: Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Went From the Party of Reagan to the Party of Trump (paperback, 2016, Hachette).
Janet McIntosh/Norma Mendoza-Denton, eds: Language in the Trump Era: Scandals and Emergencies (paperback, 2020, Cambridge University Press).
Shannon Bow O'Brien: Donald Trump and the Kayfabe Presidency: Professional Wrestling Rhetoric in the White House
PJ O'Rourke: A Cry From the Far Middle: Dispatches From a Divided Land (2020, Atlantic Monthly Press).
Brian L Ott/Greg Dickinson: The Twitter Presidency: Donald J Trump and the Politics of White Rage (2020, Routledge).
Rodney S Patterson: Trumping the Race Card: A National Agenda, Moving Beyond Race and Racism (paperback, 2019, Learner's Group).
*Douglas E Schoen/Jessica Tarlov: America in the Age of Trump: A Bipartisan Guide (paperback, 2018, Encounter Books).
*Jennifer M Silva: We're Still Here: Pain and Politics in the Heart of America (2019, Oxford University Press).
Theda Skocpol/Caroline Tervo, eds: Upending American Politics: Polarizing Parties, Ideological Elites, and Citizen Activists From the Tea Party to the Anti-Trump Resistance (paperback, 2020, Oxford University Press).
Terry Silverman: 1000 Dumbest Things Donald Trump Has Said and Done (paperback, 2020, independent).
*Scott Stedman: Real News: An Investigative Reporter Uncovers the Foundations of the Trump-Russia Conspiracy (2019, Skyhorse).
Strobe Talbott: Our Founders' Warning: The Age of Reason Meets the Age of Trump (2020, Brookings Institution Press).
Tom Telcholz: The Worst President Ever: Prominent Republican and Former Trump Administration Officials Speak Out Against Trump (paperback, 2020, independent).
Barney Warf, ed: Political Landscapes of Donald Trump (paperback, 2020, Routledge). [October 29]
Tahmina Watson: Legal Heroes in the Trump Era (2020, Tahmina Watson).
*Darrell M West: Divided Politics, Divided Nation: Hyperconflict in the Trump Era (2020, Brookings Institution Press).
*Alexander Zaitchik: The Gilded Rage: A Wild Ride Through Donald Trump's America (2016, Hot Books).
I might as well mention my own not-yet-book, tentatively titled The Last Days of American Empire IV: Extracts From a Notebook (.odt format, and large), which covers 2017 up to last week (more forthcoming). The title seemed more obvious as I was compiling Volume I, which covers the GW Bush years, 2001-08. It was clear from his initial overreach after 9/11/2001 that Bush was going to push the American Empire past its breaking point. Indeed, that was the one point Osama Bin Laden got right in provoking America into its Global War on Terror. Nothing since then has changed my mind, so I kept the title through Obama's presidency, covered in Volume II and Volume III, although by then the rot seemed more reflected at home, in ever increasing inequality and an increasing sense of injustice. But where Obama at least seemed to recognize problems and was intent on patching them up with as little inconvenience to the rich as possible, Trump has repeatedly blown things up, stripping away any semblance of normalcy or even rational planning. Indeed, the driving motivation in chronicling the last four years as been dumbfounded wonder at how destructive a politician could be.
Friday, May 22, 2020
Aside from last week's Trump Books, this is my first Book Roundup since October 31, 2019, so lots of ground to cover. As usual, 40 books in the main section (well, 45), some with lists of extras tacked on. Then a bunch of "briefly noted" -- most just noted. Not inconceivable I could return and write more about some of them later. I've even been known to read the occasional book that first appeared there. But at least this includes them in the big file for future reference.
This time I have a third section, which includes leftovers from the Trump Books roundup. I didn't sort them out as I did before. Again, this section includes some forthcoming books -- some surprisingly close to the election, like they're deliberately planning on being irrelevant. [PS: On further reflection, I think I should move these new books back into the old post, but will hold off on doing that until later, so those reading in real time won't have to go back.]
My usual methodology here is to start with Amazon's tracking of my tastes and interests, and see where their recommendations lead me -- especially given that their book pages contain blurbs and user reviews, often even a partial "look inside," usually sufficient information to base my notes on. However, Amazon has become much more frustrating and much less useful lately. Their "my recommendations" page is now about 80% non-book clutter, and their book subject lists have generally been slashed from 50 to 15 books (I've seen them with as few as 4), so not much to explore from there. Their book pages used to have long lists of related books (usually books that others have bought or looked at), but the only thing they offer regularly now is "books you may like" -- pretty much the same list on every page. Their subject browsing has never been useful (it's even hard to find it). Even searches are pot shots. For the Trump books, I scoured through 50-60 screens of titles before posting last week. Most of the books below showed up in the next 20-30 screens.
I wound up going to Barnes and Noble for Trump books. Their subject browsing has been slightly better in the past, although it, too, seems worse than before. (Filters now seem to cancel each other out rather than further refine, and order by date is flat out broken.) Plus they don't have nearly as much aggregate information, so when I do find a book there, I wind up having to search it out on Amazon. I also looked at Indie Bound, but found no help at all. Looks like you can order there, but can't really shop. [PS: Finally, looked at Good Reads, which turns out to be more useful.]
In the future, it looks like I'm going to have to return to doing things like thumbing through the New York Review of Books looking for advertisements. (In the past, I went to libraries and bookstores to jot down lists of titles. From age 16 on I prowled around bookstores several times a week, regarding it as essential to my mental health, but that practice declined and ended when Borders went bankrupt.) I even tried doing a Google search for "new political books," which referred me to BookAuthority's 63 Best New Politics Books to Read in 2020. Some real crap, but at least 25% of the books there didn't show up in my Amazon searches. (Thanks to that list, I added Lawrence Lessig's book to the list, and after looking up Lessig I wrote the two Ganesh Sitaraman entries, increasing the main list to 42 books.)
Two of the longer sublists deserve special mention. I often list previous works by authors, but that went a little long with Joseph J Ellis. I look at the aforementioned "big file" often to see what other books someone has written, so it's always tempting to broaden that list -- currently, it's just everything mentioned in previous Book Roundups, but I can imagine stuffing it into a database. On the other hand, I didn't do that for the next author down, Eric Foner. That's partly because I've followed Foner more closely in the past, and indeed have read several of his books that predate the file (actually starting with Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (1970; paperback, 1995, Oxford University Press).
Also did a long list under Nathan J Robinson, but the other list I wanted to mention was the one under Laurie Garrett. You hear people arguing that no one could have anticipated the pandemic, but as the list shows, there's actually a pretty substantial literature on the subject, with Garrett's big 1994 book as a cornerstone. Admittedly, I padded the list with historical books on the 1918 influenza. That is the most similar historical event to the present one, so seems of special interest today. I wasn't finding much on older plagues, but given how much else I had I decided not to look harder. But I did think of a Robert Desowitz book I had read 20+ years ago, and thought it worth mentioning. Also stumbled across a new article by Garrett, which would have been good in a Weekend Roundup.
Hard to predict when the next Book Roundup will appear, given what a mess my scratch file is currently in, plus the recent search troubles. I currently have 49 books left over, but most of them are mere stubs (some of those I might as well add as such below). On the other hand, at least a dozen are ready to go, and even as I write this I'm finding more books I want to comment on.
Books (from the main section) I've read so far: Erwin Chemerinsky: We the People; Ani DiFranco: No Walls and the Recurring Dream; Matt Farwell/Michael Ames: American Cipher; Eric Foner: The Second Founding; Ezra Klein: Why We're Polarized; John McPhee: Draft No. 4; Suketu Mehta: This Land Is Our Land; Cailin O'Connor/James Owen Weatherall: The Misinformation Age; Charles Postel: Equality; Emmanuel Saez/Gabriel Zucman: The Triumph of Injustice; Joan C Williams: White Working Class. Most of these I picked up rather haphazardly from the library. I've also read all (or nearly) of Robert Christgau: Book Reports and Paul Krugman: Arguing With Zombies as pre-book essays. Wrote two of those up at the end, only after seeing them in my book feed.
Posting this without yet doing the indexing. The "big file," see above for link, currently has 4,505 books (paragraphs, approximately the same thing), so it is already pretty unwieldy (although I can still load its 1.8 MB into an emacs buffer and search it almost instantly, so it still works for me).
David A Ansell: The Death Gap: How Inequality Kills (paperback, 2019, University of Chicago Press): Doctor, has spent 40 years working in some of the poorest hospitals in Chicago, wrote a book about his experiences: County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago's Public Hospital (2011, Academy Chicago Publishers). Problem here is not just that America's health care system fails poor Americans, inequality has stacked the deck against them even before illness or injury strikes. Related:
Andrew Bacevich: The Age of Illusions (2020, Metropolitan Books): Ex-soldier, professed conservative, Bacevich has written a long series of books about the revival of militarism in America after Vietnam and how that renascent military was wasted and ruined in a series of wars in the Middle East. He looks to be retracing his steps here, focusing especially on the decision to maintain "sole superpower" status after the Cold War's sudden end, a decision that encouraged new enemies to replace the old. While that has been profitable for an arms industry and a bureaucracy always in need of enemies, the forever wars have only left America poorer and shabbier than before.
Christopher Caldwell: The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties (2020, Simon & Schuster): This is regarded as a rare conservative attempt at serious cultural history, but as always the word "entitlement" gives the mythmaking impulse away. Caldwell takes "readers on a roller-coaster ride through Playboy magazine, affirmative action, CB radio, leveraged buyouts, iPhones, Oxycontin, Black Lives Matter, and internet cookies" to illustrate his case that "the reforms of the 1960s, reforms intended to make the nation more just and humane, instead left many Americans feeling alienated, despised, misled."
Erwin Chemerinsky: We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the Twenty-First Century (paperback, 2018, Picador): Dean of UC Berkeley School of Law, previously wrote The Conservative Assault on the Constitution (2011), and The Case Against the Supreme Court (2014). His "progressive reading" emphasizes the preamble, which among other things permits the government to "promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity" -- about as progressive a directive as one can imagine. Also see:
Robert Christgau: Book Reports: A Music Critic on His First Love, Which Was Reading (paperback, 2019, Duke University Press): Second collection of essays, following up Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017 (paperback, 2018, Duke University Press) with a selection of book reviews -- some on music history and criticism, some on fiction, some loosely grouped as "Bohemia Meets Hegemony" and "Culture Meets Capital."
Adam Cohen: Supreme Inequality: The Supreme Court's Fifty-Year Battle for a More Unjust America (2020, Penguin Press): From 1936 to 1969 we were fortunate to have a Supreme Court that leaned left, for the only real period in American history when the Court worked to broaden and deepen the rights of all citizens, often in opposition to repressive and reactionary state and even federal laws. In 1969, Nixon started a campaign to pack the court with right-wingers (although his first two nominees were rejected by the Senate, his choice of William Rehnquist started to change the tide). Also see (plus the Robin Pogrebin/Kate Kelly book below, and the Erwin Chemerinsky book/list above):
John Corbett: Pick Up the Pieces: Excursions in Seventies Music (2019, University of Chicago Press): Music writer and impressario (owns his own reissue label), reminiscences about 4-11 records from each year of the 1970s -- a pretty hip selection, many (even obscurities) I would have picked, probably more jazz than I knew at the time. Starts with the Kinks' "Lola," ends 1979 with the Raincoats' cover of same (plus one 1980 album, Grace Jones' Warm Leatherette).
William Dalrymple: The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire (2019, Bloomsbury): Major historian of British India, focuses here on the early period when English power was entrusted to private enterprise, the notorious East India Company -- a case example of what's likely to happen when the powers of state are directed exclusively for the profit of foreign shareholders. The progression is spelled out in chapter titles: "1599," "Sweeping With the Broom of Plunder," "Bloodshed and Confusion," "Racked by Famine," and "The Corpse of India." After the revolt of 1859, the British government had to step in and take over. They, too, did a lousy job.
Ani DiFranco: No Walls and the Recurring Dream: A Memoir (2019, Viking; paperback, 2020, Penguin Press): DIY folksinger from Buffalo, released her own records and made a business out of that, which she still regards as a pretty weird thing to do. I have a cousin who moved to Buffalo and knows her -- my cousin's family shows up here and there in the book, and I figure I probably caught a glance of Ani as a girl, long before I started hearing about how amazing she was, which was long before you did, so I've always felt a bit of a personal connection. Also I figure it's good for me to read the occasional memoir, especially of people growing up political, as I may write one myself some day. I found the early family/city parts fascinating, the music/industry less so. I suspect she does too.
EJ Dionne Jr: Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country (2020, St Martin's Press): The Washington Post columnist's second Trump book, perhaps a little more desperate than the first (One Nation Under Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported), but doubling down on his centrist pitch, that progressives have to give in and accept nothing for their votes, so the centrists can cut their own deals furthering oligopoly.
Barbara Ehrenreich: Had I Known: Collected Essays (2020, Twelve): Starts with the Harper's piece that grew into her bestseller, Nickel-and-Dimed, with more on inequality, health, men, women, science, joy, God, and "bourgeois blunders" -- a rather vast category. A good selection, but after two dozen books, not remotely close to collected.
Joseph J Ellis: American Dialogue: The Founders and Us (2018, Knopf): Historian, has written a number of books on the founding of the United States (partial list below). Notes the persistence of "what would the Founding Fathers think?" questions on current topics, tries to juxtapose several contemporary questions with thinking from those founders: Thomas Jefferson (racism), John Adams (inequality), George Washington (imperialism), and James Madison (the doctrine of original intent). I wouldn't put much stock in the answers (at least from the first two), but shows us again how the study of history is always (for better or worse) an interaction with the present. More Ellis books, and other recent period titles:
Matt Farwell/Michael Ames: American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the US Tragedy in Afghanistan (2019, Penguin Press): Bergdahl was a troubled teenager in Idaho, signed up and got thrown out of the US Coast Guard, joined the US Army as a private and got sent to Afghanistan. There, he wandered off his base, was captured by the Taliban and held for five years before being repatriated in a prisoner exchange. He was then reviled by the right-wing press, and as a result was court-martialed for desertion, convicted, and dishonorably discharged, without further incarceration. His story parallels America's futile and foolish war effort.
Eric Foner: The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution (2019, WW Norton): America's foremost historian of the period, his main book Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (1988; updated edition, paperback, 2014, Harper). This focuses most specifically on the three constitutional amendments of the period, including the one about "birthright citizenship" that Trump has most explicitly attacked. This details how and why they were passed, and how they've been reinterpreted by the courts ever since (e.g., how the 14th Amendment has been taken as carte blanche for corporate power).
Laurie Garrett: The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance (1994; paperback, 1995, Farrar Straus & Giroux): This is an old book, massive (768 pp), nothing remotely specific on this year's pandemic, but a solid rejoinder to anyone's insinuation that "no one could have anticipated this." Garrett, by the way, is still around, most recently writing Trump Has Sabotaged America's Coronavirus Response. Here are some more books on pandemics and plagues, broadening the net both going back and forward.
Kim Ghattas: Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unravaled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East (2020, Henry Holt). There's a natural dynamic to revolution to try to expand -- one thinks of the French wars against European monarchies, and Russia's appeal to proletarian revolution elsewhere. When Iran threw off the Shah, one of the first things the new Islamic Republic did was to mount a challenge for leadership of the Muslim World -- something Saudi Arabia had assumed since occupying the "holy cities" of Mecca and Medina. Hence the "forty-year rivalry" documented here. While revolutionary fervor in Iran has ebbed, isolation orchestrated by the Saudis, Israel, and the United States (as always, the sorest of sore losers) has kept a desperate edge on the conflict.
Dan Kaufman: The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics (2018, WW Norton): The Kochs put a lot of money and organization into flipping Wisconsin, and had their most remarkable success these, with Scott Walker winning two terms as governor, Ron Johnson twice defeating Russell Feingold for the Senate, and a state legislature so gerrymandered Republicans still have a massive edge despite losing the popular vote -- Democrats did manage to rebound some in 2018. Moreover, Republicans won not by sugar-coating their ideology, but by taking advantage of their wins to implement some of the most radically right-wing policies in the nation.
Marc Hetherington/Jonathan Weiler: Prius or Pickup? How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America's Great Divide (2018, Houghton Mifflin): Sure, badly. On the other hand, if you tell someone what your politics are, then ask them to answer the questions for you, the answers will probably correlate, at least in that people with different politics will probably put you into the authors pigeonholes. All that proves is that you can lie with statistics, as opposed to the usual process of just spouting nonsense. Authors also wrote:
AG Hopkins: American Empire: A Global History (2018, Princeton University Press). I thought I'd slip this in under Daniel Underwahr's How to Hide an Empire, but at 960 pp this is by far the more sweeping book, basically a recasting of the whole history of America as viewed through its imperialistic proclivities. Author is British, which no doubt helped set up the global imperial framework.
Ezra Klein: Why We're Polarized (2020, Simon & Schuster): Polarization per se doesn't bother me. Indeed, given that Republicans have moved significantly to the right, it's good that Democrats have moved somewhat left, and would I'd be happier if they moved even further. Sure, this does cause problems, like when one party (almost always the Republican) tries to obstruct the other from doing it would do itself if under different circumstances (like pass stimulus bills). Klein cites a lot of political science research on how people identify themselves in groups, but he refuses to credit any kind of "identity politics" strawman (unlike, say, Mark Lilla, in The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics). He sees identity as inevitable but also flexible and multi-layered, which strikes me as right.
Paul Krugman: Arguing With Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future (2020, WW Norton): New York Times columnist and sometime economist recycles his columns, organized into thematic sections, like how Obamacare was supposed to work, why the Euro didn't, why tax cuts aren't always good, why deficits aren't always bad, and how politics affects (and infects) everything.
Michael Lind: The New Class War: Saving Democracy From the Managerial Elite (2020, Portfolio): Started out as a thinker with conservative impulses, gradually turned on the right without abandoning those instincts. Seems to be intent on defending working class Trump voters here from the charge of bigotry, arguing that they're caught in the grip of a class war against them, and for a "class compromise that provides the working class with real power."
Andrew Marantz: Anti-Social: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation (2019, Viking). You know, there's a lot of incoherent shit on the internet. If you look for it, you'll find it, and if you take it seriously, you'll start to worry about, oh say, the future of civilization. As near as I can tell, that's what Marantz is doing here, plus a little legwork to meet up with some of the people who play assholes in virtual space. I'm not sure any of it matters, but he does spend enough time chatting up the alt-right to draw out their general maleficence, so that's something. Just not sure it's worth the trouble.
Branko Marcetic: Yesterday's Man: The Case Against Joe Biden (paperback, 2020, Verso): Intended as "a deep dive into Joe Biden's history and the origins of his political values," argues that "far from being a liberal stalwart, Biden often outdid even Reagan, Gingrich, and Bush, assisting the right-wing war against the working class, and ultimately paving the way for Trump." Even though Biden's been the Democratic frontrunner, we haven't seen many books reviewing his life and record. But I'm reminded here that the publisher has a history of dredging up dirt on Democratic candidates -- back in 2000, I read one of their more brutal hatchet jobs, Al Gore: A User's Manual (by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair). Biden is a much easier target -- Gore at least seemed to have the gravitas and smarts to make his frequent maneuvers to the right seem merely opportunistic, whereas Biden simply does whatever seems easiest. On the other hand, Biden's running less on his own record than on someone else's, and few have seen fit to call him on that. More on Biden:
Michael J Mazarr: Leap of Faith: Hubris, Negligence, and America's Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy (2019, PublicAffairs): A RAND Corporation senior analyst, the sort of person who would have rubber-stamped the Bush administration's plot to invade Iraq, claims to have figured out how it all went so horribly wrong. He blames the decision on "a strain of missionary zeal that lives on" -- clearly, John Bolton is a particularly odious example. But while it's pretty easy these days to find politicians who admit that Iraq was a mistake, it's much harder to find ones who question the assumptions that went into that miscalculation. As such, even with books like this on the shelf, we have little reason to expect future war planners to have learned from past disasters.
John McPhee: Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process (2017; paperback, 2018, Farrar Straus and Giroux): My favorite nonfiction writer constructs a memoir of his writing, stories of who and when and why, mixed with occasional grammar tips. I was hooked at the latter, although his thoughts on structure will challenge me more. Still, I'm reluctantly coming to suspect that at 89 his major works are behind him: The Founding Fish was 2002, Uncommon Carriers 2006, and since then just collections, most recently The Patch (2018), which I passed up at the library: essays on fishing, football, golf, lacrosse, bears, and something called "An Album Quilt."
Suketu Mehta: This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant's Manifesto (2019, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Born in India, grew up in New York, wrote journalism all around the world, giving him the feel and perspective to write his major book, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found (2004). "Mehta juxtaposes the phony narratives of populist ideologues with the ordinary heroism of laborers, nannies, and others . . . also stresses the destructive legacies of colonialism and global inequality on large swaths of the world: When today's immigrants are asked, 'Why are you here?' they can justly respond, "We are here because you were there.'"
Cailin O'Connor/James Owen Weatherall: The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread (2018; paperback, 2020, Yale University Press): Useful anecdotal history of many cases where blatant falsehoods were propagated far and wide, both recent and fairly deep into the past (e.g., the "health benefits" of bleeding). Also a series of approximate mathematical models of how such ideas are transmitted, ranging from gossip to propaganda.
Kevin C O'Leary: Madison's Sorrow: Today's War on the Founders and America's Liberal Ideal (2020, Pegasus Books): A research fellow at the Center of the Study of Democracy at UC Irvine, previously wrote Saving Democracy: A Plan for Real Representation in America (paperback, 2006, Stanford University Press). Argues that Madisonian democracy was essentially liberal, and that the Republican Party has "unleashed an illiberal crusade against the ideals of the Founding Fathers." Both liberals and conservatives have tried to claim the Founders and their Constitution as their own. I've long thought that Scalia's "originalism" is a crock. On the other hand, the liberal case has mostly been aspirational, as they recall best sentiments and overlook how often those ideals have been failed. Still, I recall that my own politics started with a naive embrace of our noble past, leading me to turn against modern politicians of both parties for their many failures to live up to those ideals. But since then, one party has stood out in its desire to wreck the very foundations of democracy and equality: the Republicans, as O'Leary makes clear here.
Thomas Philippon: The Great Reversal: How America Gave Up on Free Markets (2019, Belknap Press): By which he means: stopped worrying about monopoly power and shied away from antitrust enforcement. Economist, teaches finance at Stern School of Business. That's a reasonable position: capitalists wax eloquent about the efficiencies of the free market, but the first thing they learn to do in business school is to undermine and thwart competition. But I've seen this book picked apart by none other than James K Galbraith -- to some extent in defending his father (who was tolerant of well-regulated monopoly), but also for lionizing Wright Patman (D-TX), who had a reputation as a populist in the 1930s but didn't impress me much when he was chairing the House Banking Committee in the 1960s.
Thomas Piketty: Capital and Ideology (2020, Belknap Press): Massive successor to the French economist's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, runs 1104 pages. Krugman panned this for wandering too far afield, but one suspects that a good part of the complaint has to do with Piketty's more radical political leanings. Goes deep in time, and all around the world, seeking to understand the roots of inequality and its extension today.
Robin Pogrebin/Kate Kelly: The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation (2019, Portfolio): The authors dug up some of the background exposés that crowded out discussion of judicial philosophy -- reason enough to keep him far away from the Supreme Court. Book includes several revelations that resurfaced questions as to whether Kavanaugh lied to Congress during his confirmation hearings, and whether he should be impeached for it. Clearly, as a Supreme Court Justice, he's well positioned to do immense damage to our rights under the Constitution.
Charles Postel: Equality: An American Dilemma 1866-1896 (2019, Farrar Straus and Giroux): A history of several political movements following the Civil War that took the notion of equality, given renewed emphasis following the end of slavery and the constitutional promise of equal rights, and tried to expand it to various groups -- farmers, women, labor. It's worth noting that several of those movements made alliances with the restoration of white power in the South, and as such compromised the equality they sought on the fractured ground of racism. Postel wrote a previous book, The Populist Vision.
Jedediah Purdy: This Land Is Our Land: The Struggle for a New Commonwealth (2019, Princeton University Press): Philosopher, I guess, although he makes his living teaching law. Hailing from West Virginia, he's haunted by the relationship between environmental destruction and poverty. A blurb touts this as a "Thoreauvian call to wake up," but surely he realizes that lifting a title from Woody Guthrie suggests a more straightforward revolution.
Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen: The Ideas That Made America: A Brief History (2019, Oxford University Press): Intellectual history, "from the Puritans to Postmodernism, and everything in between." That's a tall, probably impossible order, especially given how much actual thinking in American history simply cancels one another out. To come up with something more usually requires an agenda. This one isn't clear, not least because what we might have recognized as a liberal/progressive consensus a generation or two ago has been widely trashed of late, mostly (but not only) by the right. Author previously wrote American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas (2011; paperback, 2012, University of Chicago Press).
Nathan J Robinson: Why You Should Be a Socialist (2019, All Points Press): Editor of Current Affairs, has a pile of books since 2013, including ones focused on Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, but more intent on explaining how much better life could be with democratic socialism. Other books by Robinson and other books on democratic socialism:
David Rohde: In Deep: The FBI, the CIA, and the Truth About America's "Deep State" (2020, WW Norton). All bureaucracies have their own special interests, and those that act in secrecy are especially likely to hide their own agendas. The FBI, especially but not exclusively under J Edgar Hoover, often put its own agenda first, which led to numerous abuses, especially directed at what they dubbed "subversive" groups, like civil rights activists and labor unions. The CIA has been even more secretive, and their remit to run clandestine operations has been even more widespread. Moreover, they've enjoyed direct private access to the president -- at least since 9/11 on a daily basis, so their ability to shape US foreign policy, whatever their motives may be, is nonpareil but also obscure. Indeed, it's not uncommon for presidents-elect to reverse course following their first briefing, which only adds to the aura of mysterious power. So much as been obvious to everyone on the left since Harry Truman, but the last few years it's been Trump et al. who've been up in arms over the "deep state" -- an epithet they tend to apply indiscriminately to the whole civil service. This book provides some background, but mostly to help sort out the charges that the FBI and CIA, with their Obama-era leadership, were out to get Trump. I don't doubt there's something to those charges, but Trump's demands are such an overreach not just of decent policy but of law that it's hard to side with him, even against adversaries this bad.
Heather Cox Richardson: How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America (2020, Oxford University Press): Historian, argues not just that the defeated Confederacy was able to restore its old system of white supremacy for a century after the Civil War, but that a the American West provided a key vector for Southern political influence, notably through the "movement conservatives" like Barry Goldwater. Thus we see that their efforts to maintain supremacy did not end with the civil rights movement, but continue to influence the Republican Party today. Richardson previously wrote:
Emmanuel Saez/Gabriel Zucman: The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay (2019, WW Norton): Saez is the world's foremost statistician of inequality, so expect a fair amount of number crunching here. Zucman, who I associate with French economist Thomas Piketty, has a previous book more specific to this concern: The Hidden Wealth of Nations: The Scourge of Tax Havens (2015; paperback, 2016, University of Chicago Press). Makes a strong case for cracking down on tax havens, showing that the failure of the US and other countries to do so is a deliberate choice in favor of oligarchy. Also makes a case for a wealth tax.
Gabriel Sherman: The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News -- and Divided a Country (2014; paperback, 2017, Random House). This is the basis for Showtime's TV series, with Russell Crowe playing Ailes. I had missed the book, which sounds like it's meant to blow smoke up Ailes' ass, and couldn't stand watching the show -- mostly because I didn't find Ailes' bloviating speeches credible (not so much that I couldn't believe he gave them but I couldn't stomach the notion that anyone bought them). Still, probably the single most important political story of the last quarter-century, so someone had to tell it.
Ganesh Sitaraman/Anne L Alstott: The Public Option: How to Expand Freedom, Increase Opportunity, and Promote Equality (2019, Harvard University Press): The most often hear "public option" these days as Joe Biden's preferred way of patching up Obamacare's failure to assure competitive private health insurance. As such, it's seen as an alternative to Medicare for All, but the latter is a much better example of what the authors mean by "public option": a case where the government provides a public service, not bound by the private sector's need to maximize profit. The section on history offers examples like public libraries and Social Security, and admits "mixed results in education and housing." Part Three plots out where this could go, and probably shortchanges "And More" with just 12 pages.
Ganesh Sitaraman: The Great Democracy: How to Fix Our Politics, Unrig the Economy, and Unite America (2019, Basic Books): Author of The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic (2017, Knopf), which offered a pretty convincing account of the founding of the nation as an egalitarian ideal struggling to become real. Here he focuses on more recent history: the rise of the right from Reagan on (which he roots in and doesn't distinguish from neoliberalism, a term he uses a lot but I'd prefer to limit). Prescriptions follow. [PS: In his "Acknowledgments" I was surprised to find generous mention of Pete Buttigieg.]
Gene Sperling: Economic Dignity (2020, Penguin Press): Cover adds: "Chief White House Economic Adviser to President Obama and President Clinton." Sperling advertised himself as The Pro-Growth Progressive in 2005, with his "economic strategy for shared prosperity." At that time, he was cooling his heels, working at the Brookings Institution, waiting to become Hillary Clinton's chief economic adviser for her ill-fated 2008 campaign (2008 was, however, very good to Sperling, as he received $2.2 million "from a variety of consulting jobs, board seats, speaking fees and fellowships" (that's prosperity, but not what I'd call shared). He easily made the transition from Clinton to Obama, and was a prominent player in Ron Suskind's 2011 book Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President. The new book leads off with a blurb from Hillary Clinton, who says "it should be our North Star for the recovery and beyond." There are people with worse resumes in Washington (e.g., those currently working for Trump), but few "progressives" have aimed so low and still failed to deliver. Even now, he's trying to buy us off with "dignity" (which, by the way, he defines as "you know it when you see it"). Good luck with that.
Matt Stoller: Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy (2019, Simon & Schuster): Big book on the dangers of concentration of economic power as companies connive to prevent or limit competition: something antitrust law was meant to prevent, but has been hobbled by loose definitions and lax enforcement, not unrelated to the ever-greater role that lobbying and campaign "contributions" play in American politics.
Joan C Williams: White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America (paperback, 2019, Harvard Business Review Press): Sympathetic enough to her subjects, emphasizing how the desire for stability and belief in self-sufficiency offer the white working class a conservative ethos, a point which could be extended to the non-white working class if they only had a party option that wasn't as offensive as the Republicans. Contrasts this to the urban professionals who may be more liberal socially but also lack the grounding in community and its identities, and may wind up more alienated as a result. In passing, she mentions "class migrants," who typically come from the working class but are able to function in the professional world, appreciating bits of both.
Other recent books noted with little or no comment:
Alberto Alesina/Carlo O Favero/Francesco Glavazzi: Austerity: When It Works and When It Doesn't (2019, Princeton University Press).
Charlotte Alter: The Ones We've Been Waiting For: How a New Generation of Leaders Will Transform America (2020, Viking). Profiles of young politicians, the eldest Pete Buttigieg (b. 1982), the only other one I recognize Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (b. 1989).
Andrew J Bacevich, ed: American Conservatism: Reclaiming an Intellectual Tradition: A Century of Writings From Henry Adams to the Present (2020, Library of America).
Molly Ball: Pelosi (2020, Henry Holt).
Frida Berrigan: It Runs in the Family: On Being Raised by Radicals and Growing Into Rebellious Motherhood (paperback, 2015, OR Books).
Rutget Bregman: Humankind: A Hopeful History (2020, Little Brown): "A more politically radical Malcolm Gladwell."
Vincent Brown: Tacky's Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War (2020, Belknap Press).
Oren Cass: The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America (2018, Encounter Books): Former "domestic policy director for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign."
Panashe Chigumadzi: These Bones Will Rise Again (2020, The Indigo Press): On Zimbabwe and overthrowing Robert Mugabe.
Michael D'Antonio: The Hunting of Hillary: The Forty-Year Campaign to Destroy Hillary Clinton (2020, Thomas Dunne Books).
Alan Dershowitz: Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo (2019, Hot Books).
Joan Marans Dim/Antonio Masi: Lady Liberty: An Illustrated History of America's Most Storied Woman (2019, Fordham University Press).
Mike Duncan: The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic (2017; paperback, 2018, PublicAffairs).
Anna Fifield: The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jung Un (2019, PublicAffairs).
Marc Fleurbaey, et al: A Manifesto for Social Progress: Ideas for a Better Society (paperback, 2018, Cambridge University Press).
Kristen Ghodsee: The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe (paperback, 2015, Duke University Press).
Ted Gioia: Music: A Subversive History (2019, Basic Books).
Malcolm Gladwell: Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know (2019, Little Brown).
Thom Hartmann: The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment (paperback, 2019, Berrett-Koehler).
Thom Hartmann: The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America (paperback, 2019, Berrett-Koehler).
Thom Hartmann: The Hidden History of the War on Voting: Who Stole Your Vote -- and How to Get It Back (paperback, 2020, Berrett-Koehler).
Nolan Higdon/Mickey Huff: United States of Distraction: Media Manipulation in Post-Truth America (And What We Can Do About it) (paperback, 2019, City Lights).
Jonathan Horn: Washington's End: The Final Years and Forgotten Struggle (2020, Scribner).
Susan Jacoby: The Age of American Unreason in a Culture of Lies (paperback, 2018, Vintage Books): Revised edition of her 2008 The Age of American Unreason, itself a return to Richard Hofstadter's famous Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.
Sean Kay: Rockin' the Free World! How the Rock & Roll Revolution Changed America and the World (2016, Rowman & Littlefield; paperback, 2018, RL).
Stephen Kinzer: Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control (2019, Henry Holt).
Michael T Klare: All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon's Perspective on Climate Change (2019, Metropolitan Books).
Michael J Klarman: The Framers' Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution (2016, Oxford University Press).
Mikael Klintman: Knowledge Resistance: How We Avoid Insight From Others (2019, Manchester University Press).
Nicholas D Kristof/Sheryl WuDunn: Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope (2020, Knopf).
Peter La Chapelle: I'd Fight the World: A Political History of Old-Time, Hillbilly, and Country Music (paperback, 2019, University of Chicago Press).
Rob Larson: Capitalism vs. Freedom: The Toll Road to Serfdom (paperback, 2018, Zero Books).
Erika Lee: America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States (2019, Basic Books).
Lawrence Lessig: They Don't Represent Us: Reclaiming Our Democracy (2019, Dey Street Books).
Steven Levingston: Barack and Joe: The Making of an Extraordinary Partnership (2019, Hachette Books).
Matthew Lockwood: To Begin the World Over Again: How the American Revolution Devastated the Globe (2019, Harvard University Press).
Agusto Lopez-Claros/Bahiyyih Nakhjavani: Equality for Women = Prosperity for All: The Disastrous Global Crisis of Gender Inequality (2019, St Martin's Press).
Allen Lowe: God Didn't Like It: Electric Hillbillies, Singing Preachers, and the Beginning of Rock and Roll, 1950-1970 (paperback, 2013, Constant Sorrow Press).
Annie Lowrey: Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World (2018, Crown).
George Monbiot: Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis (2017; paperback, 2018, Verso).
Jenny Odell: How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (2019, Melville House).
Michael O'Sullivan: The Levelling: What's Next After Globalization (2019, PublicAffairs).
Robert B Reich: The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It (2020, Knopf).
Ruth Reichl: Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir (2019; paperback, 2020, Random House).
Thomas E Sheridan/Randall H McGuire, eds: The Border and Its Bodies (2019, University of Arizona Press).
Frank Smyth: The NRA: The Unauthorized History (2020, Flatiron Books).
Rebecca Solnit: Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir (2020, Viking).
Joseph E Stiglitz: Globalization and Its Discontents Revisited: Anti-Globalization in the Era of Trump (paperback, 2017, WW Norton).
Cal Thomas: America's Expiration Date: The Fall of Empires and Superpowers . . . and the Futrure of the United States (2020, Zondervan).
Jia Tolentino: Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion (2019, Random House).
Rick Van Noy: Sudden Spring: Stories of Adaptation in a Climate-Changed South (2019, University of Georgia Press).
Michael Walzer: A Foreign Policy for the Left (2018, Yale University Press).
Jesse Wegman: Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College (2020, St Martin's Press).
Tara Westover: Educated: A Memoir (2018, Random House).
Kevin D Williamson: The Smallest Minority: Independent Thinking in the Age of Mob Politics (2019, Gateway).
Even after trying hard to round up all but the flimsiest and most ridiculous books on Trump, his administration, and the 2020 election, I find I still missed a few:
Seth Abramson: Proof of Conspiracy: How Trump's International Collusion Is Threatening American Democracy (2019, St Martin's Press): Previously wrote Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America (2018, Simon & Schuster), and has a third volume in the works, each over 400 pp range (this one 592).
Seth Abramson: Proof of Corruption: Bribery, Impeachment, and Pandemic in the Age of Trump (2020, St Martin's Press): A third volume, after Proof of Collusion (2018) and Proof of Conspiracy (2019). This seems to me like far and away the fattest subject, even before the author tacked on something about the pandemic, probably making it one of the first books to broach the subject. Still, seems too early to tell much. [September 8]
Jeffrey F Addicott: Trump Judges: Protecting America's Establishment Pillars to "Make America Great Again" (paperback, 2020, Imprimatur Press).
Dan Alexander: White House, Inc: How Donald Trump Turned the Presidency Into a Business (2020, Portfolio). Senior Editor at Forbes, so it's unclear whether this is muckraking or just their usual run of business puff pieces. But possibly useful to the extent he shows how it's done. [August 11].
Martin Amis: The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabakov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump: Essays and Reportage, 1986-2016 (2017, Joathan Cape).
Sara Azari: Unprecedented: A Simple Guide to the Crimes of the Trump Campaign and Presidency (2020, Potomac Books): Author is "a practicing lawyer who specializes in white-collar crime," and at least starts with cases that led to prosecutions -- first chapter is on George Papadopoulos). Doesn't read "simple," but at 176 pp is short.
Kobby Barda: The Key to Understanding Donald J Trump (2019, Simple Story).
Edwin L Battistella: Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President, From Washington to Trump (2020, Oxford University Press).
Joy Behar: The Great Gasbag: An A-Z Study Guide to Surviving Trump World (2017; paperback, 2018, Harper).
Pablo J Boczkowski/Zizi Paracharissi, eds: Trump and the Media (paperback, 2018, MIT Press).
Dan Bongino: Spygate: The Attempted Sabotage of Donald J Trump (2018, Post Hill Press).
Ben Bradlee Jr: The Forgotten: How the People of One Pennsylvania County Elected Donald Trump and Changed America (2018, Little Brown).
Donna Brazile: Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House (2017, Hachette Books).
Laura Briggs: How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics: From Welfare Reform to Foreclosure to Trump (2017, University of California Press).
Martha Brockenbrough: Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump (2018, Feiwel Friends).
FH Buckley: The Republican Workers Party: How the Trump Victory Drove Everyone Crazy, and Why It Was Just What We Needed (2018, Encounter Books).
Leonard Cruz/Steven Buser, eds: A Clear and Present Danger: Narcissism in the Era of Donald Trump (paperback, 2016, Chiron Publications).
Brian Francis Culkin: The Meaning of Trump (paperback, 2018, Zero Books).
The Daily Show With Trevor Noah: The Donald J Trump Presidential Twitter Library (2018, Spiegel & Grau).
Kim Darroch: Collateral Damage: Britain, America, and Europe in the Age of Trump (2020, PublicAffairs): Former British Ambassador to the US, resigned under fire "after a series of cables containing unflattering descriptions of President Trump." [September 15]
Alan Dershowitz: Defending the Constitution: Alan Dershowitz's Senate Argument Against Impeachment (paperback, 2020, Hot Books).
Ian Doescher/Jacopo della Quercia: MacTrump: A Shakespearean Tragicomedy of the Trump Administration, Part I (paperback, 2019, Quirk Books): An adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, or possibly Barbara Garson's Macbird (1967)?
Lou Dobbs: The Trump Century (2020, Broadside Books): The Thousand Year Reich in an age of diminished expectations. [September 1]
Jesse Duquette: The Daily Don: All the News That Fits Into Tiny, Tiny Hands (paperback, 2019, Arcade).
David A Farenthold: Uncovering Trump: The Truth Behind Donald Trump's Charitable Giving (paperback, 2017, Diversion Books).
John Bellamy Foster: Trump in the White House: Tragedy and Farce (paperback, 2017, Monthly Review Press): Marxist sociologist, editor of Monthly Review, has a number of books on ecological and financial crises. This is a short (144 pp), early take on Trump's election, by a guy who knows a "neo-fascist" when he sees (or smells) one.
John Gartner/Steven Buser, eds: Rocket Man: Nuclear Madness and the Mind of Donald Trump (paperback, 2018, Chiron Publications): Some chapters: "If Trump Were a Policeman I Would Have to Take Away His Gun"; "Trump's Sick Psyche and Nuclear Weapons: A Deadly Mixture"; "Facing the Truth: The Power of a Predatory Narcissist"; "Trump's No Madman, He's Following the Strongman Playbook"; "Visions of Apocalypse and Salvation."
John Glaser/Christopher A Preble/A Trevor Thrall: Fuel to the Fire: How Trump Made America's Broken Foreign Policy Even Worse (and How We Can Recover) (2019, Cato Institute).
Mardy Grothe: Deconstructing Trump: The Trump Phenomenon Through the Lens of Quotation History (2019, Quoterie Press).
Pete Hegseth: American Crusade: Our Fight to Stay Free (2020, Center Street): Flag-waving "old school patriot" with military background and tattoos, sees Trump as a "sign of a national rebirth," while decrying "Leftists who demand socialism, globalism, secularism, and politically-correct elitism." Parlayed his conceits into a job as co-host of Fox & Friends Weekend.
Donald Heinz: After Trump: Achieving a New Social Gospel (paperback, 2020, Cascade Books).
Rosanna Hildyard: Ubu Trump (paperback, 2017, Eyewear Publishing): Alfred Jarry's 1888 play Ubu Roi, "translated and entirely updated" by Hildyard. When I first saw MacTrump, I flashed on this as the more apt production . . . and here it is!
Gene Ho: Trumpography: How Biblical Principles Paved the Way to the American Presidency (paperback, 2018, iUniverse).
Adam Hodges: When Words Trump Politics: Resisting a Hostile Regime of Language (paperback, 2019, Stanford University Press): Analysis of Trump's words (you know, "the best words"), especially via Twitter.
Carl Hoffman: Liar's Circus: A Strange and Terrifying Journey Into the Upside-Down World of Trump's MAGA Rallies (2020, Custom House). Katy Tur's Unbelievable (2017) provides a sense of what Trump's rallies are like, or at least were during the 2016 campaign, but this promises to be both more in-depth and more up-to-date. While the fans and the appeal are likely to be the same, I can't help but wonder if Trump being president doesn't intensify the sense of power. [September 22]
Charles Hurt: Trump Saves America: Our Last Hope to Be Great Again (2019, Center Street).
Aaron James: Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump (2016, Doubleday).
Brittany Kaiser: Targeted: The Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower's Inside Story of How Big Data, Trump, and Facebook Broke Democracy and How It Can Happen Again (2019, Harper).
David King: Why Trump Deserves Trust, Respect, and Admiration (paperback, 2016, CreateSpace): Blank pages -- not the first such Trump book I've seen.
Edward Klein: All Out War: The Plot to Destroy Trump (2017, Regnery).
Howard Kurtz: Donald Trump, the Press, and the War Over the Truth (2018, Regnery).
Gary Lachman: Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump (paperback, 2018, TarcherPerigee).
Martin E Latz: The Real Trump Deal: An Eye-Opening Look at How He Really Negotiates (2018, Brisance Books).
David Limbaugh: Guilty by Reason of Insanity: Why the Democrats Must Not Win (2019, Regnery).
Trevor Loudon: White House Reds: Communists, Socialists & Security Risks Running for US President, 2020 (paperback, 2020, independent): Quotes Trump saying the 2020 election would be about "Communism versus Freedom," then proceeds to red-bait "ten high profile contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination." Previously wrote Barack Obama and the Enemies Within (2011, 688 pp), and The Enemies Within: Communists, Socialists and Progressives in the US Congress (2013, 702 pp).
Michael Maccoby, ed: Psychoanalytic and Historical Perspectives on the Leadership of Donald Trump (paperback, 2020, Routledge).
Derek Mailhiot: Trump: America's First Zionist President (paperback, 2019, independent): Author means this as a compliment, but where exactly does that leave America First? Even if you see Trump's "deep relationship" is really with Christian Zionism, what does that mean but a yearning for Armageddon? And that's a longing Israeli Zionists want to encourage?
Stephen Mansfield: Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him (2017, Baker Books).
Gerardo Marti: American Blindspot: Race, Class, Religion, and the Trump Presidency (paperback, 2020, Rowman & Littlefield).
Mike McCormick: Fifteen Years a Deplorable: A White House Memoir (paperback, 2019, 15 Years a Deplorable).
Rachel Montgomery: All I Ever Wanted to Know About Donald Trump I Learned From His Tweets: A Psychological Exploration of the President Via Twitter (paperback, 2017, Skyhorse).
Samhita Mukhopadhyay/Kate Harding, eds: Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump's America (paperback, 2017, Picador).
Stephanie Muravchik/Jon A Shields: Trump's Democrats (2020, Brookings Institution Press). [August 25]
Jack Murphy: Democrat to Deplorable: Why Nine Million Obama Voters Ditched the Democrats and Embraced Donald Trump (paperback, 2018, independent).
Caitríona Perry: In America: Tales From Trump Country (2018, Gill Books).
Carol Pogash, ed: Quotations From Chairman Trump (2015, RosettaBooks). I'm surprise this hasn't been revised and reissued, given how much additional verbiage Trump has spewed in the meantime. Maybe the editor thinks it was already perfect? By the way, this wasn't the first attempt to parody Chairman Mao's "Little Red Book": I had a copy of Quotations From Chairman LBJ back in the day; and it was followed by a little blue book of Richard Nixon quotes, Poor Richard's Almanack.
Joel Pollak/Larry Schweikart: How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution (paperback, 2017, Regnery).
Kevin Powell: My Mother. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. And the Last Stand of the Angry White Man (2018, Atria Books).
Jack Rasmus: The Sourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy From Reagan to Trump (paperback, 2020, Clarity Press).
Ted Rall: Trump: A Graphic Biography (paperback, 2016, Seven Stories Press).
Ian Reifowitz: The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (paperback, 2019, Ig Publishing).
Sheldon Roth: Psychologically Sound: The Mind of Donald J Trump (Bombardier Books). Against every other psychologist and psychiatrist who's weighed in on the subject, argues that Trump is "remarkably complicated, often brilliant, comfortingly human, and most importantly, of completely sound mind."
David Rubin: Trump and the Jews (2018, Shiloh Israel Press): Note that Amazon's "frequently bought together" adds David Rubin: God, Israel, and Shiloh: Returning to the Land (paperback, 2011, Shiloh Israel Press), and Mark Blitz: Decoding the Antichrist and the End Times: What the Bible Says and What the Future Holds (paperback, 2019, Charisma House).
John Bernard Ruane: The Real News! The Never-Before-Told Stories of Donald Trump & Fake News (paperback, 2018, Post Hill Press).
Michael Savage: Stop Mass Hysteria: America's Insanity From the Salem Witch Trials to the Trump Witch Hunt (2018, Center Street).
Steven E Schier/Todd E Eberly: The Trump Presidency: Outsider in the Oval Office (paperback, 2017, Rowman & Littlefield).
Ben Shapiro: The Establishment Is Dead: The Rise and Election of Donald Trump (2017, Creators Publishing).
Marsha Shearer: America in Crisis: Essays on the Failed Presidency of Donald Trump (paperback, 2019, GoMyStory).
James B Stewart: Deep State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law (2019, Penguin Books).
David A Stockman: Trumped! A Nation on the Brink of Ruin . . . And How to Bring It Back (2016, Laissez Faire Books): Ronald Reagan's Budget Director, turned libertarian iconoclast, fantasizes a bit about Trump making "ten great deals" -- which, of course, he never came close to considering, and not just because he doesn't really consider anything.
Gene Stone: The Trump Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Living Through What You Hoped Would Never Happen (2017, Dey Street Books).
Roger Stone: The Making of the President 2016: How Donald Trump Orchestrated a Revolution (2017, Skyhorse). I missed this, but did list Stone's later book, The Myth of Russian Collusion: The Inside Story of How Donald Trump Really Won (paperback, 2019, Skyhorse).
Stephen E Strang: God, Trump, and Covid-19: How the Pandemic Is Affecting Christians, the World, and America's 2020 Election (paperback, 2020, Frontline): Short (128 pp) follow up to the author's God, Trump, and the 2020 Election: Why He Must Win and What's at Stake for Christians if He Loses (2020, Frontline), and for that matter his 2017 book, God and Donald Trump.
Joe Walsh: F*ck Silence: Calling Trump Out for the Cultish, Moronic Authoritarian Con Man He Is (2020, Broadside Books): Author is a "rock-ribbed conservative," a former Republican congressman from Illinois who briefly challenged Trump in the 2020 Republican presidential primary.
Jonathan Weisman: (((Semitism))) Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump (2018, St Martin's Press).
Shannon Wheeler: Sh*t My President Says: The Illustrated Tweets of Donald J Trump (2017, Top Shelf Productions).
John K Wilson: President Trump Unveiled: Exposing the Bigoted Billionaire (paperback, 2017, OR Books).
Byron York: Obsession: Inside the Democrats' War on Trump (2020, Regnery). Chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner, and Fox News hack. Previously wrote: The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President -- and Why They'll Try Even Harder Next Time (2005, Crown Forum). [September 8]
Also: books that I've written about (or noted) before, that I missed when looking for old Trump books:
Tucker Carlson: Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class Is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution (2018, Free Press).
Andrew C McCarthy: Ball of Collusion: The Plot to Rig an Election and Destroy a Presidency (2019, Encounter Books).
Saturday, May 16, 2020
My last Book Roundup was back on October 31, 2019, so I'm overdue for another. I quickly came up with more than one column's worth, and noticed that an awful lot of those books -- including several cascaded lists -- dealt with Donald Trump, his corrupt administration, and the political dynamics that got him elected, and that continues to support him. Obviously, a big part of the timing has to do with the 2020 election. We have, by comparison, few books on Democrats, aside from political strategy books aimed at defeating Trump. So I thought I'd group these Trump books into a single post. This does not include more general political and economic books, or books on specific issues that aren't explicitly tied to Trump -- although Trump looms large over them as well.
I'm including a number of forthcoming books. I usually wait for them in my periodic reports, as I always have enough old stuff to fill the column, but if they fit the theme, I might as well include them here. Some extend as far out as October 27. The future dates are noted. Some books in the main section include lists of additional books on same or similar subject.
Anonymous: A Warning (2019, Twelve): Allegedly by "a senior Trump administration official," a book-length expansion of a New York Times op-ed called "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration." As far as I know, the author hasn't been exposed yet. His/her bona fides are established by insisting that he/she is a conservative activist, dedicated to advancing movement goals with or without Trump's blessing. I don't doubt that policy subversion like this happens in all White Houses, but it's usually not something to brag about.
Krystal Ball/Saagar Enjeti: The Populist's Guide to 2020: A New Right and New Left Are Rising (paperback, 2020, Strong Arm Press): Authors are co-hosts of "Rising at the Hill TV," where they seem to take opposing left-right positions, agreeing only on the establishment figures at the root of the problems. Each signs their own pieces, with the combined book gaining accolades from both Tucker Carlson and Nina Turner (co-chair of Bernie 2020).
Wayne Barrett: Without Compromise: The Brave Journalism That First Exposed Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and the American Epidemic of Corruption (paperback, 2020, Bold Type Books): Edited by Eileen Markey, this collects the late Village Voice reporter's early reporting on Trump -- it's pretty safe to say that Trump first came to my attention thanks to Barrett's reports, and I learned all I ever really needed to know about Trump there. Barrett later wrote a book on Trump (1992's Trump: The Deals and the Downfall), revised in 2016 (Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention). Not sure why the publication date here is so far out, or whether the book includes much on Barrett's other prime subject, Ed Koch -- his book, written with Jack Newfield, was City for Sale: Ed Koch and the Betrayal of New York). [September 22]
Andrea Bernstein: American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power (2020, WW Norton): Co-host of a podcast called "Trump Inc.," offers a deep dive into where the family fortunes came from, how they "encouraged and profited from a system of corruption, dark money, and influence trading."
David Bromwich: American Breakdown: The Trump Years and How They Befell Us (2019, Verso Books): A short (192 pp) chronicle of "the degradation of US democracy," mostly through the expansion of presidential war-making powers and the double-speak that was first enshrined in law by the 1947 National Defense Act. Has a second new book out this month: How Words Make Things Happen (2019, Oxford University Press). Some previous books: Politics by Other Means: Higher Education and Group Thinking (1994); The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke: From the Sublime and Beautiful to American Independence (2014); Moral Imagination: Essays (2014).
Roderick P Hart: Trump and Us: What He Says and Why People Listen (paperback, 2020, Cambridge University Press): While probably not a pro-Trump book, Hart is generous enough to take Trump at his word. In fact, he counts Trump's words, sorts them out, and establishes why Trump voters respond to various words and themes, and therefore promises to answer questions about who and why where most writers rely on their prejudices.
Susan Hennessy/Benjamin Wittes: Unmaking the Presidency: Donald Trump's War on the World's Most Powerful Office (2020, Farrar Straus and Giroux). The authors are editors of the website Lawfare and senior fellows at the Brookings Institution, and Hennessy previously worked as an attorney in the NSA, so it's not surprising they view the presidency as a legal and institutional totem rather than as the simple reflection of any actual President, or that they should want to defend it against an occupant as ill suited as Trump. On the other hand, the phrase "the world's most powerful office" gives me the creeps. Ever since WWII, Congress has increased the power of the presidency, especially through the vast array of warmaking forces at the president's disposal. One could write a book showing how dangerous that is given a president as unstable and deranged as Trump, and that's the likely value of this book. But the list of favorable blurb authors -- Hillary Clinton, James Comey, Michael Hayden, Preet Bharara -- for this book suggest that the author's agenda is something else.
Charles J Holden/Zach Messitte/Jerald Podair: Republican Populist: Spiro Agnew and the Origins of Donald Trump's America (2019, University of Virginia Press). This is a stretch, a case of scouring history for precedents and settling for trivial likeness. Agnew was a relatively liberal Maryland governor, but Nixon wanted a hatchet man for his campaign, especially someone who could exploit the prejudices of the white ethnics Nixon's strategists hoped to pry away from the Democratic Party. Agnew stepped up, and became a culture war lightning rod, but Nixon made sure to get rid of him before his own resignation. No subsequent politician sought to emulate Agnew, and there is no reason to think that Agnew could have run on his own. As for being a "populist," the authors mean bigot and prig, which is all that reminds them of Trump.
Ben Howe: The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power Over Christian Values (2019, Broadside Books). White evangelical Christians vote overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. This confuses liberals who are inclined to give evangelicals the benefit of their doubts, and saddens evangelicals who have liberal instincts. But it doesn't surprise ex-believers like myself much, as we've long noted the deep well of hatred their "faith" justifies and reinforces.
Sarah Kendzior: Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America (2020, Flatiron Books): Journalist from Missouri, previously wrote The View From Flyover Country, claims she predicted Trump's win in 2015, then launches into a comparison of Trump to Uzbek strongman Islam Karimov, who also made aspirations to greatness part of his political vocabulary. The book broader and deeper than Trump, with chapters of "a buried American history" from at least the 1980s, although tying that decade to Roy Cohn keeps the focus close enough to Trump.
John Marini: Unmasking the Administrative State: The Crisis of American Politics in the Twenty-First Century (2019, Encounter Books): One of Trump's most resonant campaign lines in 2016 was his pledge to "drain the swamp." I didn't believe him, but more importantly I didn't understand him. By "swamp" I assumed he meant the pervasive influence of money in Washington, flowing from thousands of lobbyists and the interest groups they represented. What else could he possibly have meant? So when he took office, I took it as plain hypocrisy when he hired dozens of lobbyists to hand control of regulation over to the businesses affected. But here Marini argues that "the swamp" has nothing to do with money. Rather, "the swamp" is the domain of government workers: people hired by the government to serve the public interest by limiting private greed and ensuring that government services are run for the public's benefit. He dubs these public servants "the swamp creatures," and applauds Trump's efforts to purge them and/or to subjugate them to Trump's partisan patronage machine. Michael Lewis covers some of this in The Fifth Risk, showing how Trump's efforts to politicize administration undermines our collective well-being. How much so is all but unfathomable, but the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed one sector's failings most dramatically.
Dan P McAdams: The Strange Case of Donald J Trump: A Psychological Reckoning (2020, Oxford University Press): It's tempting to think one can psychoanalize Trump, given that even before he ran for president he was such a public figure, projecting virtually no sense of personal depth. After various other attempts, this one is widely praised for its balance and for insights into why Trump still appeals to many people, even while many more regard him as puerile, narcissist, sociopathic, and/or moronic.
Jennifer Mercieca: Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump (2020, Texas A&M University Press): A "political communication expert," a professor in the Department of Communication at Texas A&M, co-editor of a previous book on another president's somewhat different rhetorical conception. After immersing herself in Trump-speak, she found that Trump and his campaign "expertly used the common rhetorical techniques of a demagogue." She backs that up with technical analysis (citing various fallacious arguments, "reification, paralipsis, and more"). Turns out that those of us who jumped to the conclusion that he's just another fascist were on the right track. [July 9]
Malcolm Nance: The Plot to Betray America: How Team Trump Embraced Our Enemies, Compromised Our Security, and How We Can Fix It (2019, Hachette Books). Author "spent 35 years participating in field and combat intelligence activity including both covert and clandestine anti & counter-terrorism support to national intelligence agencies, and has written a series of books, first celebrating the US War on Terror (e.g., An End to Al Qaeda: Destroying Bin Laden's Jihad and Restoring America's Honor), and trying to relaunch the Cold War with Russia (e.g., The Plot to Hack America: How Putin's Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election, and The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin's Spies Are Winning Control of America and Dismantling the West). I find this line of argument against Trump to be both useless and obscene: useless because Trump isn't either a principled or effective critic of the security hawks, and obscene because what the critics advocate for is even worse than what Trump does (or sometimes talks about doing). And I'm especially uncomfortable with talk about "betraying America" (or, worse still, "treason"). The purpose of such talk is invariably to shut down discussion of political choices in foreign policy -- something that is sorely needed.
Richard W Painter/Peter Golenbock: American Nero: The History of the Destruction of the Rule of Law, and Why Trump Is the Worst Offender (2020, BenBella Books): Painter "served as White House chief ethics counsel under President George W Bush," which doesn't sound like much in the way of credentials -- if you ask me, Bush's administration was as corrupt at any in American history (at least, pre-Trump), and his staff lawyers were remarkably practiced at rationalizing torture and other war crimes. On the other hand, he doesn't simply draw the line at Trump. He's written a long book that goes deep into American history, exposing dozens of examples where "the rule of law" was violated by American politicians. But first he starts with sketches of Nero and George III, emphasizing their similarities to Trump (starting with narcissism).
Joe Palazzolo/Michael Rothfeld: The Fixers: The Bottom-Feeders, Crooked Lawyers, Gossipmongers, and Porn Stars Who Created the 45th President (2020, Random House). Cover looks like it fell out of a tabloid, which seems peculiarly appropriate for this president. Makes you wonder whether Trump's relative immunity to scandal isn't the result of such prolonged exposure it's not only lost its power to shock, it's become part of his aura. Of course, the big draw here is the bit about porn stars, not least because they are more honest and less unsavory than fixers like Roy Cohn and Michael Cohen.
Dan Pfeiffer: Un-Trumping America: A Plan to Make America a Democracy Again (2020, Twelve): "Pod Save America" co-host, worked (as did the other three) in Obama administration, feels that entitles him to give practical advice on how to defeat Trump in 2020. There are a number of books like that out recently, including:
Jerrold M Post/Stephanie R Doucette: Dangerous Charisma: The Political Psychology of Donald Trump and His Followers (2019, Pegasus Books): Post is "the long-time head of psychological profiling at the CIA," where he prepared numerous profiles of world leaders -- "he may be the only psychiatrist who has specialized in the self-esteem problems of both Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein." That sounds pretty dubious to me: I have serious doubts about shrinks who have direct access to patients, and understand how easy it is to project one's prejudices, especially across vast distances. One possible value-added here is the probe into the psyches of Trump's supporters. Post previously wrote:
Philip Rucker/Carol Leonnig: A Very Stable Genius: Donald J Trump's Testing of America (2020, Penguin Press): Another detailed chronicle of madness and mayhem in the Trump White House, as leaked to two senior Washington Post writers (Pulitzer Prize winners). They seem to be especially chummy with the unelected foreign policy intelligentsia alarmed by Trump's occasional lapses from the usual American clichés, which can get annoying. The title is Trump's self-description, which has been widely lampooned (see parody books below).
Robert P Saldin/Steven M Teles: Never Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites (2020, Oxford University Press): Sure, various Republican "elites" had reservations about Trump in early 2016, but they turned out to be purely tactical: once Trump won, all was forgiven, with GOP officials as well as rank-and-file lining up dutifully, eventually learning not to even flinch when he does something obviously uncouth. That left a few incalcitrants to oppose Trump in the sanctified name of conservatism. This book divides them up into four parts: national security professionals; political operatives; public intellectuals; lawyers and economists. The best known are in the third group, but many of them work for mainstream media outlets where their views are esteemed.
Jim Sciutto: The Madman Theory: Trump Takes on the World (2020, HarperCollins): CNN's chief national security correspondent, his standing within America's imperial security establishment amply demonstrated by his 2019 book, The Shadow War: Inside Russia's and China's Secret Operations to Defeat America. Title refers to Nixon's "madman theory," which at least had a cunning rationale behind it. That Trump's madcap approach to foreign policy differs first in that it isn't remotely a theory, as is clear when Sciutto admits that Trump's employs his version "sometimes intentionally and sometimes not." I'm fairly sure that someone could write a book that reduces Trump's foreign policy to a handful of simple rules, like: Trump is always looking for short-term business propositions; Trump has no concerns about liberal ideals like human rights and democracy, but he does loathe any hint of socialism, and he defaults to being a race and religious bigot; Trump likes foreign leaders who flatter him, even if they're the wrong race and/or religion; Trump bears grudges against countries that fail to show him sufficient obeissance, and is obsessed with the idea that supposed allies are cheating him (or America); Trump has no real interest in results, so he's happy doing nothing as long as people are saying the right things. Needless to say, he is frustrating and annoying to anyone who actually has an ideological stake in foreign policy, like the neoliberal and neoconservative mandarins who dominate the business, but he hasn't changed much of what they do. [August 18]
Stuart Stevens: It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump (2020, Knopf): Author "spent decades electing Republicans at every level" and "knows the GOP as intimately as anyone in America," but evidently has changed his mind root and branch -- as opposed to the "Never Trumpers" who claim to remain true to principles that Trump personally betrayed. I've been saying all along that Trump is the expected outcome of decades of right-wing political machinations, so I'm gratified to see Stevens making just that case. I doubt he's exactly right, but his complaint about "five decades of hypocrisy and self-delusion" is spot on. [August 4].
Jeffrey Toobin: True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump (2020, Doubleday): First significant history of the Mueller Invesgitation and the Impeachment of Donald Trump, by the legal analyst for CNN and The New Yorker, who has written weighty books on the Clinton impeachment (A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President), Bush v. Gore (Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six Day Battle to Decide the a2000 Election), the Supreme Court (The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court and The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme court), as well as some famous criminal cases (OJ Simpson, Patty Hearst, Oliver North). Not sure I give a shit, but this is a book he was destined to write. [August 4]. Other new books on Mueller and/or impeachment:
Dannagal Goldthwaite Young: Irony and Outrage: The Polarized Landscape of Rage, Fear, and Laughter in the United States (2019, Oxford University Press). I haven't yet found a book that explores the thesis that Donald Trump is basically a stand-up comic, but that's one way of viewing his rallies -- at least if you can manage not to gag, which is the most common reaction among people who are perceptive. One big problem is that Trump isn't very funny, but he does some things that comics do: he distorts the truth in unexpected ways, in the hopes of getting an instant emotional response instead of a reasoned one. Young explores a number of politically-focused cultural figures, finding that those on the right aim mostly at provoking rage, whereas many of those on the left would rather evoke laughter. (Of course, not everyone left of center aims at comedy; most pundits are sober analysts, and there are another few who simply rail at the right -- although they usually still do have more facts at their disposal than is customary on the right -- well, Russia-phobes excepted). Indeed, for me the most remarkable cultural change I've seen since Trump became president has been the politicization of late-night talk shows, where Trump is lambasted and ridiculed in ways that were unimaginable for Reagan and the Bushes, or for that matter Obama and the Clintons. I'm not sure that's a good thing, but I have taken considerable comfort in knowing that my own revulsion over Trump is so widely shared.
James D Zirin: Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits (2019, All Points Books): Not sure anyone ever tried to count before, but Trump clearly holds the record for most lawsuits (either filed or defended against), probably by an order of magnitude, maybe two or three. Trump has a couple of lawsuits being argued this week before the Supreme Court, where he's attempting to suppress subpoenas for his financial records -- something all other recent presidential candidates have volunteered. I can think of other lawsuits where presidents attempted to elevate their office beyond the normal reach of law (Nixon, Clinton), as well as cases like Bush v. Gore, and Trump has political cases like those, but most of his relate to his business practices, which doesn't make them any less tawdry.
And these are recent Trump-themed books I'm only briefly noting, as I don't have much more to say about them. Most memoirs by Trump staff and appointees wind up here -- presumably they have some historical value, even if they wind up being pure propaganda. I have, however, separated out the purer pro-Trump propaganda books, as well as trivia and attempts at humor (see the following sections).
Eric Alterman: Lying in State: Why Presidents Lie -- and Why Trump Is Worse (2020, Basic Books). [August 11]
Alain Badiou: Trump (paperback, 2019, Wiley).
Kate Bennett: Free, Melania: The Unauthorized Biography (2019, Flatiron Books).
Peter Bergen: Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos (2019, Penguin Press).
Sarah Blaskey/Nicholas Nehamas/Caitlin Ostruff/Jay Weaver: The Grifter's Club: Trump, Mar-a-Lago, and the Selling of the Presidency (2020, PublicAffairs). [August 4]
John Bolton: The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir (2020, Simon & Schuster).
Kate Andersen Brower: Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump (2020, Harper). [May 19]
Nina Burleigh: Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump's Women (2018, Gallery Books): Four women on cover: Ivanka and the three wives.
Ian Buruma: The Churchill Complex: The Curse of Being Special, From Winston and FDR to Trump and Brexit (2020, Penguin Press). [September 1]
Josh Campbell: Crossfire Hurricane: Inside Donald Trump's War on the FBI (2019, Algonquin Books).
Patrick Cockburn: War in the Age of Trump: The Defeat of ISIS, the Fall of the Kurds, the Conflict With Iran (2020, Verso Books). [July 7]
Robert Dallek: How Did We Get Here? From Theodore Roosevelt to Donald Trump (2020, HarperCollins).
Bob Davis/Lingling Wei: Superpower Showdown: How the Battle Between Trump and Xi Threatens a New Cold War (2020, HarperCollins): Wall Street Journal reporters. [June 9]
Lawrence Douglas: Will He Go? Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020 (2020, Grand Central).
Daniel W Drezner: The Toddler in Chief: What Donald Trump Teaches Us About the Modern Presidency (paperback, 2020, University of Chicago Press).
Jonathan Engel: Unaffordable: American Healthcare From Johnson to Trump (2018, University of Wisconsin Press).
David Enrich: Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump, and an Epic Trail of Destruction (2020, Custom House).
Guy Fawkes: 101 Indisputable Facts Proving Donald Trump Is an Idiot: A Brief Background to the Most Spectacularly Unqualified Person to Ever Occupy the White House (2018, Guy Fawkes).
Emily Jane Fox: Born Trump: Inside America's First Family (paperback, 2019, HarperCollins).
David Frum: Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy (2020, Harper). [May 26]
Mark Green/Ralph Nader: Fake President: Decoding Trump's Gaslighting, Corruption, and General Bullsh*t (paperback, 2019, Skyhorse).
Jean Guerrero: Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda (2020, HarperCollins). [August 11]
Nikki R Haley: With All Due Respect: Defending America With Grit and Grace (2019, St Martin's).
Steve Harris: America's Secret History: How the Deep State, the Fed, the JFK, MLK, and RFK Assassinations, and Much More Led to Donald Trump's Presidency (2020, Skyhorse).
Richard L Hasen: Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy (2020, Yale University Press).
Steven Hassan: The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control (2019, Free Press).
Julie Hirschfeld Davis/Michael D Shear: Border Wars: Inside Trump's Assault on Immigration (2019, Simon & Schuster).
Charles E Hurlburt: The Enemy Within: A Chronicle of the Trump Administration: Book One (11/2016-08/2018) (paperback, 2019, independent).
Mary Jordan: The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump (2020, Simon & Schuster). [June 16].
David A Kaplan: The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside the Supreme Court in the Age of Trump (paperback, 2019, Broadway Books).
Jonathan Karl: Front Row at the Trump Show (2020, Dutton).
Jasmine Kerrissey/Eve Weinbaum/Claire Hammonds/Tom Juravich/Dan Clawson, eds: Labor in the Time of Trump (paperback, 2020, ILR Press).
Glenn Kessler/Salvador Rizzo/Meg Kelly [The Fact Checker Staff of The Washington Post]: Donald Trump and His Assault on Truth (paperback, 2020, Scribner): Only 384 pp? [June 2]
Harold Hongju Koh: The Trump Administration and International Law (2018, Oxford University Press).
Daniel S Lucks: Reconsidering Reagan: Racism, Republicans, and the Road to Trump (2020, Beacon Press). [August 4]
Lachlan Markay/Asawin Suebsaeng: Sinking in the Swamp: How Trump's Minions and Misfits Poisoned Washington (2020, Viking): Two investigative reporters for The Daily Beast explain how Trump has remade the DC "swamp" in his own image.
Jim Mattis/Bing West: Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead (2019, Random House): Trumps' first Secretary of Defense, but evasive on all that.
HR McMaster: Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World (2020, Harper): Trump's second National Security Advisor. [September 15]
Rory McVeigh/Kevin Estep: The Politics of Losing: Trump, the Klan, and the Mainstreaming of Resentment (2019, Columbia University Press).
Pippa Norris/Ronald Inglehart: Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism (paperback, 2019, Cambridge University Press).
Joseph S Nye Jr: Do Morals Matter? Presidents and Foreign Policy From FDR to Trump (2020, Oxford University Press).
Greg Palast: How Trump Stole 2020: The Hunt for America's Vanished Voters (paperback, 2020, Seven Stories Press). [July 14]
William J Perry/Tom Z Collina: The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power From Truman to Trump (2020, BenBella Books): Former Secretary of Defense. [June 30]
John J Pitney Jr: Un-American: The Fake Patriotism of Donald J Trump (2020, Rowman & Littlefield).
Patrick Porter: The False Promise of Liberal Order: Nostalgia, Delusion and the Rise of Trump (2020, Polity). [July 7]
Eric A Posner: The Demagogue's Playbook: The Battle for American Democracy From the Founders to Trump (2020, St Martin's). [June 30]
Scott Ritter: Scorpion King: America's Suicidal Embrace of Nuclear Weapons From FDR to Trump (2nd ed, paperback, 2020, Clarity Press). [June 1]
Amy Roost/Alissa Hirshfeld: Fury: Women's Lived Experiences During the Trump Era (paperback, 2020, Regal House).
David Rothkopf: Traitor: A History of American Betrayal From Benedict Arnold to Donald Trump (2020, St Martin's). [October 27]
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: Speaking for Myself: Faith, Freedom, and the Fight of Our Lives Inside the Trump White House (2020, St Martin's). [September 8]
Steven E Schier/Todd E Eberly: How Trump Happened: A System Shock Decades in the Making (2020, Rowman & Littlefield).
Gerald F Seib: We Should Have Seen It Coming: From Reagan to Trump -- A Front-Row Seat to a Political Revolution (2020, Random House). [August 25]
Glenn Simpson/Peter Fritsch: Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump (2019, Random House): Authors are co-founders of Fusion GPS.
Ryan Skinnell, ed: Faking the News: What Rhetoric Can Teach Us About Donald J Trump (paperback, 2018, Societas).
Guy M Snodgrass: Holding the Line: Inside Trump's Pengaton With Secretary Mattis (2019, Penguin).
Brian Stelter: Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth (2020, Atria/One Signal). [August 25]
Benjamin R Teitelbaum: War for Eternity: Inside Bannon's Far-Right Circle of Global Power Brokers (2020, Dey Street Books).
Ivana Trump: Raising Trump (2017, Gallery Books).
Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia: Banned: Immigration Enforcement in the Time of Trump (2019, NYU Press).
Ken Wilber: Trump and a Post-Truth World (paperback, 2017, Shambhala).
Jeffrey R Wilson: Shakespeare and Trump (paperback, 2020, Temple University Press).
For context, these are Trump-themed books I've written about or merely noted in previous Book Report posts. In some cases I've reproduced (or more often edited down my) original comments. Books from this section that I have read: Tim Alberta: American Carnage; David Daley: Ratf**ked; Ben Fountain: Beautiful Country Burn Again; Allen Frances: Twilight of American Sanity; David Frum: Trumpocracy; Stanley B Greenberg: RIP GOP; Michael Lewis: The Fifth Risk; Alexander Nazaryan: The Best People; James Poniewozik: Audience of One; Matt Taibbi: Insane Clown President; Katy Tur: Unbelievable.
Alan I Abramowitz: The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump (2018, Yale University Press): Looks at shifting party alignments, especially racial/ethnic, religiosu, ideological, and geographic.
Seth Abramson: Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America (2018, Simon & Schuster).
Tim Alberta: American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump (2019, Harper): Politico reporter, tight with Republican House leaders like Boehner and Ryan, covers changing forces since 2008, especially Tea Party, Freedom Caucus, and the ultimately decisive arrival of Trump.
Dale Beran: It Came From Something Awful: How a Toxic Troll Army Accidentally Memed Donald Trump Into Office (2019, All Points Books).
Max Blumenthal: The Management of Savagery: How America's National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump (2019, Verso): Basic primer on how the US fed and nurtured its eventual enemies in the Middle East -- a fundamental incoherence that Trump has done nothing to resolve.
Frank O Bowman III: High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump (2019, Cambridge University Press).
Amanda Carpenter: Gaslighting America: Why We Love It When Trump Lies to Us (2018, Broadside Books).
Chris Christie: Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics (2019, Hachette).
Stephen F Cohen: War With Russia? From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate (paperback, 2019, Hot Books).
James Comey: A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership (2018, Flatiron).
David Daley: Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy (2016; paperback, 2017, Liveright): Nuts-and-bolts on how the right-wing has plotted its takeover of American democracy, especially by gerrymandering.
Stormy Daniels: Full Disclosure (2018, St Martin's Press).
Michael D'Antonio: The Truth About Trump (paperback, 2016, St Martin's Griffin): Reissue of 2015 book, Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success.
Michael D'Antonio/Peter Eisner: The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence (2018, Thomas Dunne Books). First book I'm aware of to take stock of Trump's Vice President, who seems to have parlayed his obsequious devotion to Trump and his extensive networking with far-right Republicans into a position of exceptional behind-the-scenes power.
EJ Dionne Jr/Norman J Ornstein/Thomas E Mann: One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported (2017, St Martin's Press): Quickie from veteran Washington reporters.
Maureen Dowd: The Year of Voting Dangeously: The Derangement of American Politics (2016, Twelve).
Ben Fountain: Beautiful Country Burn Again: Democracy, Rebellion, and Revolution (2018, Ecco Books): Novelist, shocked by the 2016 election, posits an 80-year cycle of crises, lining Trump up with the comings of the Civil War and the Great Depression.
Allen Frances: Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump (2017, William Morrow). Argues that Trump is not technically insane, but raises many pertinent questions about whether America as a whole.
Justin A Frank: Trump on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President (2018, Avery).
David Frum: Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic (2018, Harper): Former Bush speechwriter turned Never Trumper, faults Republicans for failing to satisfy the needs of their base voters, has a good nose for Trump's corruption.
Stanley B Greenberg: RIP GOP: How the New America Is Dooming the Republicans (2019, Thomas Dunne Books). Democratic pollster, sees Republicans boxing themselves into a corner due to declining demographics and a dysfunctional platform.
Joshua Green: Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency (2017, Penguin).
Asad Haider: Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump (paperback, 2018, Verso).
Luke Harding: Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win (paperback, 2017, Vintage Books).
Seth Hettena: Trump/Russia: A Definitive History (2018, Melville House).
Elizabeth Holtzman: The Case for Impeaching Trump (2019, Hot Books).
Michael Isikoff/David Corn: Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump (2018, Twelve).
David Cay Johnston: The Making of Donald Trump (2016, Melville House).
David Cay Johnston: It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America (2018, Simon & Schuster).
Michiko Kakutani: The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump (2018, Tim Duggan Books).
Marvin Kalb: Enemy of the People: Trump's War on the Press, the New McCarthyism, and the Threat to American Democracy (2018, Brookings Institution Press).
Brian Klaas: The Despot's Apprentice: Donald Trump's Attack on Democracy (2017, Hot Books).
Naomi Klein: No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need (paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books): Prominent critic, especially of what she calls "disaster capitalism." Tied this title to Trump, but later books also deal with Trump, just in broader contexts.
Naomi Klein: The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists (paperback, 2018, Haymarket Books).
Naomi Klein: On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal (2019, Simon & Schuster).
Michael Kranish/Marc Fisher: Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power (2016, Scribner).
Laurence Leamer: Mar-A-Lago: Inside the Gates of Power at Donald Trump's Presidential Palace (2019, Flatiron).
Brandy Lee: The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President (2017, Thomas Dunne Books).
Barry Levine/Monique El-Faizy: All the President's Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator (2019, Hachette Books).
Michael Lewis: The Fifth Risk (2018, WW Norton). Mostly writes on financial debacles, but is more interested in following the stories of interesting people. For this book, he goes into the federal bureaucracy, providing an eye-opening view of the valuable services of three government departments, and how Trump's politicization of those departments is undermining their jobs. And since much of what they do aims to limit risks, you rarely notice them until something bad happens.
Jeffrey Lord: Swamp Wars: Donald Trump and the New American Populism vs. the Old Order (2019, Bombardier Books).
Amanda Marcotte: Troll Nation: How the Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set on Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself (2018, Hot Books).
Andrew G McCabe: The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump (2019, St Martin's Press).
Jeff Merkley: America Is Better Than This: Trump's War Against Immigrant Families (2019, Twelve).
Greg Miller: The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy (2018, Custom House).
Angela Nagle: Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump the Alt-Right (paperback, 2017, Zero Books).
Alexander Nazaryan: The Best People: Trump's Cabinet and the Siege on Washington (2019, Hachette Books): Offers us a rogues gallery of Trump's cabinet-level deputies, who more often than not turn out to reflect the vanity and avarice of their leader.
David Neiwert: Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump (2017; paperback, 2018, Verso): Wrote a pair of books on how the right responded to the Obama election in 2008; e.g., with John Amato: Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane.
Omarosa Manigault Newman: Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House (2018, Gallery Books).
John Nichols: Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America (paperback, 2017, Nation Books): Quickie, offering brief biographies of Trump's early cabinet and staff, many of whom didn't last long (although they were usually replaced by others even more sycophantic and/or corrupt.
Pippa Norris/Ronald Ingelhart: Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism (paperback, 2019, Cambridge University Press).
Keith Olbermann: Trump Is F*cking Crazy (This Is Not a Joke) (2017, Blue Rider Press).
Greg Olear: Dirty Rubles: An Introduction to Trump/Russia (paperback, 2018, Four Sticks Press).
James Poniewozik: Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America (2019, Liveright). TV critic, provides a detailed account of Trump's media exposure, his constant search for the limelight, how his fame and wealth are linked, and where his politics comes from. The single most insightful book I've found on Trump.
Bill Press: Trump Must Go: The Top 100 Reasons to Dump Donald Trump (and One to Keep Him) (2018, Thomas Dunne Books).
Joy-Ann Reid: The Man Who Sold America: Trump and the Unraveling of the American Story (2019, William Morrow).
Rick Reilly: Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump (2019, Hachette Books).
Corey Robin: The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Donald Trump (2011; paperback, 2017, Oxford University Press): Original subtitle ended at Sarah Palin.
Nathan J Robinson: Trump: Anatomy of a Monster (paperback, 2017, Demilune Press).
April Ryan: Under Fire: Reporting From the Front Lines of the Trump White House (2018, Rowman & Littlefield).
Greg Sargent: An Uncivil War: Taking Back Our Democracy in an Age of Trumpian Disinformation and Thunderdome Politics (2018, Custom House).
Marc Shapiro: Trump This! The Life and Times of Donald Trump: An Unauthorized Biography (paperback, 2016, Riverdale Avenue Books).
Cliff Sims: Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House (2019, Thomas Dunne Books).
Mark Singer: Trump and Me (2016, Mark Duggan Books).
Amy Siskind: The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump's First Year (2018, Bloomsbury): Extensive index of every time she noticed Trump doing something well outside the norms of his office, accumulating 528 pp in little more than one year.
Ryan Skinnell, ed: Faking the News: What Rhetoric Can Teach Us About Donald J Trump (paperback, 2018, Societas).
Sean Spicer: The Briefing: Politics, the Press, and the President (2018, Regnery): Trump's first press secretary.
Charles J Sykes: How the Right Lost Its Mind (2017, St Martin's Press).
Matt Taibbi: Insane Clown President: Dispatches From the 2016 Circus (2017, Spiegel & Grau): Quickie compilation of 2016 campaign reports.
Lawrence Tribe/Joshua Matz: To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment (2018, Basic Books).
Katy Tur: Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History (2017, Dey Street Books): TV reporter assigned to Trump for the 2016 campaign.
Craig Unger: House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia (2018, Dutton): Previously wrote House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties (2004).
Vicky Ward: Kushner, Inc. Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump (2019, St Martin's Press).
Rick Wilson: Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever (2018, Free Press).
Michael Wolff: Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (2018, Henry Holt).
Michael Wolff: Siege: Trump Under Fire (2019, Henry Holt).
Bob Woodward: Fear: Trump in the White House (2018, Simon & Schuster).
One thing that the Trump years have given us is a shitload of parody, satire, and trivia: some insightful in ways that more sober assessments miss the impact of, some comforting, some outrageous, some scabrous, some totally missing the point. Here are some (not all by any means). Some may even be pro-Trump. (* indicates books I haven't listed before.)
Alec Baldwin/Kurt Andersen: You Can't Spell America Without Me: The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year as President Donald J. Trump (A So-Called Parody) (2017, Penguin Press).
John Barron: A Is for "Asshole": A Children's "ABC" Guide to Donald Trump & the Trump Administration (paperback, 2018, CreateSpace).*
William H Clark/John M Werthen Jr: Tweeter of the Free World: A Covfefe Table Book: A Collection of Donald Trump's Funniest Tweets (2018, Politically Correct Publishing).*
The Editors of the Onion: The Trump Leaks: The Onion Exposes the Top Secret Memos, Emails, and Doodles That Could Take Down a President (2017, Harper Design).*
Faye Kanouse/Amy Zhing: If You Give a Pig the White House: A Parody for Adults (2019, Castle Point).*
Holan Publishing Inc: Sh*t Trump Says: The Most Terrific, Very Beautiful and Tremendous Tweets and Quotes From Our 45th President (2017, Hollan Publishing).*
Holan Publishing Inc: Sh*t Trump Says: Flips, Flops, Flattery, and Falsehoods From Our 45th President (2019, Hollan Publishing).*
John Klotsche: Donald John Trump: MEMEoir of a Stable Genius (paperback, 2019, Gatekeeper Press).*
John Lithgow: Dumpty: The Age of Trump in Verse (2019, Chronicle Prism).*
Mike Luckovich: A Very Stable Genius (paperback, 2018, ECW Press): editorial cartoons.*
Michael S Luzzi: Trumpty Dumpty: A Parody Is on the Loose, Trump's Invaded Mother Goose, a Chronicle of Trumpty Times, Reimagind in Classic Rhymes (paperback, Boggs Hill Boys Press).*
MAD: MAD About Trump: A Brilliant Look at Our Brainless President (paperback, 2017, MAD).*
MAD: MAD About the Trump Era (paperback, 2019, MAD).*
Brennan Matthews/Michelle Kerr: Tragic Trump: A Series of Comical Explanations for President Donald Trump (paperback, 2020, independent).*
Media Lab Books: My Amazing Book About Tremendous Me: Donald J Trump -- Very Stable Genius (2018, Media Lab Books).*
Leroy Mould II/Karin Carlson, eds: Very Stable Genius: The Best Words and Quotations of Donald J Trump, Individual One, the Chosen One. Volume II (paperback, 2019, independent).*
A Nasty Woman: F*ck Trump: An Adult Coloring Book (paperback, 2017, Toppings Publishing).*
Rob Sears: The Beautiful Poetry of Donald Trump (2020, Canongate Books).*
GB Trudeau: Yuge! 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump (paperback, 2016, Andrews McNeel).
GB Trudeau: #SAD!: Doonesbury in the Time of Trump (paperback, 2018, Andrews McMeel).
GB Trudeau: Lewser! More Doonesbury in the Time of Trump (paperback, 2020, Andrews McMeel). [July 7]*
Finally, I want to group together a long list of pro-Trump books. In most cases, the titles alone suffice to give you an idea of how deranged the books are. (* indicates books I haven't listed before; I'm grouping both old and new books together for cumulative effect.) It's possible that a small number of these exhibit more honesty and discretion than is immediately apparent, but most are pure propaganda, straight from the right-wing disinformation machine. There is a real sickness out there.
Nick Adams: Trump and Churchill: Defenders of Western Civilization (2020, Post Hill Press): Foreword by Newt Gingrich.*
Mykel Barthelemy: Trump Is a Racist! Here's Why (paperback, 2019, independent).*
James A Beverley: God's Man in the White House: Donald Trump in Modern Christian Prophecy (paperback, 2020, Castle Quay).*
Conrad Black: Donald J Trump: A President Like No Other (2018, Regnery): Reissue [August 18] with new title: A President Like No Other: Donald J Trump and the Restoring of America (paperback, 2020, Encounter Books).
Dan Bongino: Exonerated: The Failed Takedown of President Donald Trump by the Swamp (2019, Post Hill Press).
Eric Bolling: The Swamp: Washington's Murky Pool of Corruption and Cronyism and How Trump Can Drain It (2017, St Martin's).
L Brent Bozell III/Tim Graham: Unmasked: Big Media's War Against Trump (2019, Humanix Books).
Jason Chaffetz: The Deep State: How an Army of Bureaucrats Protected Barack Obama and Is Working to Destroy the Trump Agenda (2018, HarperCollins).*
Jason Chaffetz: Power Grab: The Liberal Scheme to Undermine Trump, the GOP, and Our Republic (2019, Broadside Books).
John Michael Chambers: Trump and the Resurrection of America: Leading America's Second Revolution (2019, Defiance Press).
Steve Cioccolanti: Trump's Unfinished Business: 10 Prophecies to Save America (paperback, 2020, Discover Media).
Horace Cooper: How Trump Is Making Black America Great Again: The Untold Story of Black Advancement in the Era of Trump (2020, Bombardier Books).*
Jerome R Corsi: Killing the Deep State: The Fight to Save President Trump (2018, Humanix Books).
Ann Coulter: In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome! (2016, Penguin).*
Ann Coulter: Resistance Is Futile! How the Trump-Hating Left Lost Its Collective Mind (2018, Penguin).*
Charles Davies: Getting Trump: How the Media Is Hurting Itself Chasing the Donald (2019, Defiance Press).
Alan Dershowitz: Trumped Up: How Criminalization of Political Differences Endangers Democracy (paperback, 2017, CreateSpace).
Alan Dershowitz: The Case Against Impeaching Trump (2018, Hot Books): Later reissued as The Case Against the Democratic House Impeaching Trump (2019, Hot Books).
JM Eckert: And In Walked Trump: For Such a Time as This (paperback, 2018, Xulon Press).
John L Fraser: The Truth Behind Trump Derangement Syndrome: There is More Than Meets the Eye (paperback, 2018, JF Publications).
Major Garrett: Mr. Trump's Wild Ride: The Thrills, Chills, Screams, and Occasional Blackouts of an Extraordinary Presidency (2018, All Points Books).
Newt Gingrich: Understanding Trump (2017, Center Street).
Newt Gingrich: Trump's America: The Truth About Our Nation's Great Comeback (2018, Center Street).
Newt Gingrich: Trump vs China: Facing America's Greatest Threat (2019, Center Street).
Sebastian Gorka: The War for America's Soul: Donald Trump, the Left's Assault on America, and How We Take Back Our Country (2019, Regnery).
Victor Davis Hanson: The Case for Trump (2019, Basic Books): Historian of ancient Greece, turned right-wing hack.
Robert Henderson: Praying for the Prophetic Destiny of the United States and the Presidency of Donald J Trump From the Courts of Heaven (paperback, 2020, Destiny Image).*
Thomas R Horn: The Rabbis, Donald Trump, and the Top-Secret Plan to Build the Third Temple: Unveiling the Incendiary Scheme by Religious Authorities, Government Agents, and Jewish Rabbis to Invoke Messiah (paperback, 2019, Defender).*
Thomas R Horn: Shadowland: From Jeffrey Epstein to the Clintons, From Obama and Biden to the Occult Elite: Exposing the Deep-State Actors at War With Christianity, Donald Trump, and America's Destiny (paperback, 2020, Defender).*
David Horowitz: Big Agenda: President Trump's Plan to Save America (2017, Humanix Books).
David Horowitz: Blitz: Trump Will Smash the Left and Win (2020, Humanix Books). [June 2]*
Charles Hurt: Still Winning: Why America Went All In on Donald Trump -- And Why We Must Do It Again (2019, Center Street).
Gregg Jarrett: The Russia Hoax: The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump (2018; paperback, 2019, Broadside Books).
Gregg Jarrett: Witch Hunt: The Story of the Greatest Mass Delusion in American Political History (2019, Broadside Books).
Ronald Kessler: The Trump White House: Changing the Rules of the Game (2018, Crown Forum).*
Charlie Kirk: The MAGA Doctrine: The Only Ideas That Will Win the Future (2020, Broadside Books).*
Corey R Lewandowski/David N Bossie: Let Trump Be Trump: The Inside Story of His Rise to the Presidency (2017, Center Street).
Corey R Lewandowski/David N Bossie: Trump's Enemies: How the Deep State Is Undermining the Presidency (2018, Center Street).
Corey R Lewandowski/David N Bossie: Trump: America First (2020, Cener Street). [September 29]*
Theodore Roosevelt Malloch: The Plot to Destroy Trump: The Deep State Conspiracy to Overthrow the President (paperback, 2019, Skyhorse).
Lily Manchubel: Too Far Left: An Eroding United States Democratic Republic: Anecdotal Observations of President Obama's Administration Left Leaning Cultural Shift, Poor Foreign and Domestic Government Policies; Versus That of Trump's More Right of Center Programs (paperback, 2019, Lulu Publishing Services): Deserves some sort of award for cutest fascist title.
Matt Margolis: Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama's Legacy (paperback, 2019, Bombardier Books).
KT McFarland: Revolution: Trump, Washington and "We the People" (2020, Post Hill Press).*
Paul McGuire/Troy Anderson: Trumpocalypse: The End-Times President, a Battle Against the Globalist Elite, and the Countdown to Armageddon (paperback, 2019, FaithWords).*
Stephen Moore/Arthur Laffer: Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy (2018, All Points Books): Possibly the two worst "economists" in America.*
Hal Moroz: The Book of Tweets: President Trump's Social Media Revolution & America's New Birth of Freedom (paperback, 2018, CreateSpace).*
Bill O'Reilly: The United States of Trump: How the President Really Sees America (2019, Henry Holt).
George Papadopoulos: Deep State Target: How I Got Caught in the Crosshairs of the Plot to Bring Down President Trump (2019, Diversion Books).
Star Parker With Richard Manning: Necessary Noise: How Donald Trump Inflames the Culture War and Why This Is Good News for America (2019, Center Street).
Jeanine Pirro: Liars, Leakers, and Liberals: The Case Against the Anti-Trump Conspiracy (2018, Center Street).
Jeanine Pirro: Radicals, Resistance, and Revenge: The Left's Plot to Remake America (2019, Center Street).
Andrew F Puzder: The Capitalist Comeback: The Trump Boom and the Left's Plot to Stop It (2018, Center Street): Trump's first pick to be Secretary of Labor.*
Ralph Reed: For God and Country: The Christian Case for Trump (2020, Regnery).*
Vernon Robinson III/Bruce Eberle: Coming HOme: How Black Americans Will Re-Elect Trump (2020, Humanix Books).*
Jesse Romero: A Catholic Vote for Trump: The Only Choice in 2020 for Republicans, Democrats, and Independents Alike (paperback, 2020, TAN Books).*
Austin Ruse: The Catholic Case for Trump (2020, Regnery). [August 11]*
Anthony Scaramucci: Trump: The Blue-Collar President (paperback, 2019, Center Street).
Allen Salkin/Aaron Short: The Method to the Madness: Donald Trump's Ascent as Told by Those Who Were Hired, Fired, Inspired -- and Inaugurated (2019, All Points).
Michael Savage: Trump's War: His Battle for America (2017, Center Street).
Michael Savage: Trump's Fight for America: The Battle Continues (2020, Center Street). [September 15]*
Kurt Schlichter: The 21 Biggest Lies About Donald Trump (And You!) (2020, Regnery). [July 7]*
Peter Schweizer: Profiles in Corruption: Abuse of Power by America's Progressive Elite (2020, Harper).*
Lee Smith: The Plot Against the President: The True Story of How Congressman Devin Nunes Uncovered the Biggest Political Scandal in US History (2019, Center Street).*
George A Sorial/Damian Bates: The Real Deal: My Decade Fighting Battles and Winning Wars With Trump (2019, HarperCollins): Sorial is a "longtime Trump Organization executive and attorney."
Sean Spicer: Leading America: President Trump's Commitment to People, Patriotism, and Capitalism (2020, Center Street). [October 13]
Roger Stone: The Myth of Russian Collusion: The Inside Story of How Donald Trump Really Won (paperback, 2019, Skyhorse).
Stephen E Strang: Trump Aftershock: The President's Seismic Impact on Culture and Faith in America (2018, Frontline).*
Stephen E Strang: God and Donald Trump (2017, Frontline).*
Stephen E Strang: God, Trump, and the 2020 Election: Why He Must Win and What's at Stake for Christians if He Loses (2020, Frontline).*
Kimberley Strassel: Resistance (At All Costs): How Trump Haters Are Breaking America (2019, Twelve).
Mark Taylor: The Trump Prophecies: The Astonishing True Story of the Man Who Saw Tomorrow . . . and What He Says Is Coming Next (2nd ed, paperback, 2019, Defender).*
Donald Trump Jr: Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us (2019, Center Street).
Lance Wallnau: God's Chaos Candidate: Donald J Trump and the American Unraveling (2016, Killer Sheep Media): Written after Jeb Bush referred to Trump as "the chaos candidate."*
Doug Wead: Game of Thorns: The Inside Story of Hillary Clinton's Failed Campaign and Donald Trump's Winning Strategy (paperback, 2018, Center Street).*
Doug Wead: Inside Trump's White House: The Real Story of His Presidency (2019, Center Street).*
Diana West: The Red Thread: A Search for Ideological Drivers Inside the Anti-Trump Conspiracy (paperback, 2019, independent).*
Matthew Whitaker: Above the Law: The Inside Story of How the Justice Department Tried to Subvert President Trump (2020, aRegnery): Whitaker was Trump's Acting Attorney General after Trump fired Jeff Sessions.*
John Yoo: Defender in Chief: Donald Trump's Fight for Presidential Power (2020, St Martin's): GW Bush's "torture memo" lawyer. [July 28]*
Thursday, October 31, 2019
Another batch of 40 brief notes on recently published books -- the third I've published this year, after March 15 and June 1. Actually, a good deal more than 40 books mentioned below, as I've tacked on lists of related books where it seemed appropriate and useful -- in some cases, the list is probably the point. Inclusion in a list doesn't guarantee that I'll never write a book up separately, but usually satisfies my sense of duty.
While the dates above seem to suggest a regular, orderly process, I only managed to do this once in 2018, and twice in 2017 (here and here), so I feel like I'm working my way out of a deep hole. Indeed, I have 55 more-or-less written entries in my scratch file for later, so I could do a fourth one next week, or at least by the end of the year. Oh, and that doesn't count the merely noted titles that follow the top 40 -- 46 more of them in the file, but I'll list some of them to end this post.
Worth noting that I have read (or am working on) the books I have cover art for on the right. Kate Brown's book on Chernobyl is probably the "best read" of the bunch. Just started Poniewozik's Audience of One, and he's scoring points from the very start (unlike, say, Tim Alberta, who wants you to regard John Boehner and Paul Ryan as normal, decent human beings). I checked out Astra Taylor's Democracy May Not Exist but We'll Miss It When It's Gone, but ran out of time before I got deep enough into it to count. I bought a copy of Stanley Greenberg's RIP GOP, but haven't gotten to it yet -- I figure it's next in queue after Poniewozik, but a lot of what I've read recently has been plucked opportunistically from the city library.
It occurs to me that I should probably do a whole piece on music, but these days I never find the time to read up on what's supposed to be my specialty. Still, I have a handful of music books in the draft file, starting with Robert Christgau's Book Reports: A Music Critic on His First Love, Which Was Reading, and John Corbett's Pick Up the Pieces: Excursions in Seventies Music. I also started a list entry on cookbooks, which could grow into a specialized post -- not least because I do regularly buy and use cookbooks.
Tim Alberta: American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump (2019, Harper). It's pretty easy now to see how everything Republicans did from 1968 to 2016 paved the way for electing this crass, bigoted grifter and sham. Nixon laid the foundation with his crass appeals to racists and reactionaries, his Orwellian "peace with honor" (a tactical retreat covered by real and feigned escalation), above all his conviction that winning is the only thing that matters, and that excuses all manner of criminality. Reagan put a sunnier face on an even darker heart. Ditto the Bushes, less artfully. Alberta only picks up this digression in 2008, with the Sarah Palin boomlet, and 2009, with the Tea Party eruption, then goes on to show how Trump won the party over, delivering the one thing they craved most of all: winning. Of course, you know all of that, but Alberta puts you in the rooms as the party brass figures it out and comes to terms with their debasement. Some other recent books on how we got to Trump:
Binyamin Appelbaum: The Economists' Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society (2019, Little Brown): A history of the growing influence and power of economists from 1969, when economists were kept to the basement of the Federal Reserve, to 2008, when the world transformed by their fundamentalist faith in markets crashed and nearly burned. In between, business and political interests looked to economists for help, and many economists strove to service their masters. One line I noted: "Conservatism was a coalition of the powerful, defending the status quo against threats real and imagined." More recent books on economics:
Kathleen Belew: Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America (2018; paperback, 2019, Harvard University Press): Locates the roots of the alt-right/white power movement less in opposition to the civil rights movement than in reaction against the loss of the Vietnam War -- though either way you can see how Richard Nixon's "silent majority"/"Southern strategy" conjured up the seething hatred of this movement, which Trump has only stoked further. More recent books on the racist right-wing fringe:
Marcia Bjornerud: Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World (2018, Princeton University Press): After my first wife died, I went through a period of several years where most of what I read was on geology, ranging from semi-popular books like John McPhee's I-70 quartet (later collected as Annals of the Former World) through some very technical texts on plate tectonics, plus a lot of paleontology and contemporary earth science. I suppose a big part of the attraction came from the vast time frameworks geologists routinely deal with, but I was also much impressed by the logic behind the science: how geologists work and think. Since 9/11, I've denied myself the indulgence of pursuing such pleasant interests. Otherwise this book would jump to the top of my reading list. Some other geology books that caught my eye:
Kate Brown: Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future (2019, WW Norton): History of the 1986 nuclear plant explosion at Chernobyl, Ukraine, Soviet Union, but less on the explosion than on the disaster it spread, especially the faulty, fitful efforts to understand (or in some case not) the widespread effects of the radiation it left. Author has written a couple of books leading up to this one, and there's been a spate of recent books on Chernobyl and so forth:
Elizabeth C Economy: The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State (2018, Oxford University Press): A history of China since Xi Jinping came to power, bringing a series of reforms distinct enough from Deng Xioping's "second revolution" reforms to merit the title. I'm not really up enough on the subject to judge, but it seems that China has found a very different path to development -- one that Americans are especially ill-prepared to understand. Other recent books on contemporary China:
Richard J Evans: Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History (2019, Oxford University Press): A big (800 pp) biography of a great historian, born in Egypt of 2nd generation British parents, orphaned at 14 in 1931, living in Berlin at the time, fleeing to England when the Nazis came to power, joined the Communist Party, went on to write major histories of Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. The author is a notable historian in his own right, his writings including three major books on Nazi Germany (The Third Reich Trilogy).
Adam Gopnik: A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism (2019, Basic Books): A staff writer for The New Yorker, seems like he's mostly written about innocuous topics, like art, travel, food, and (mostly) himself, so this foray into political philosophy ("a manifesto rooted in the lives of people who invented and extended the liberal tradition") comes as a bit of a surprise. Or maybe just to me, as his bibliographic note opens with a fairly long list of essays he has published on political figures. The central section of the book consists of three parts: a "manifesto," followed by chapters on "Why the Right Hates Liberalism" and "Why the Left Hates Liberalism" (the longest). If he's honest, the reasons are very different: the right fears any challenge to hierarchical order, while the left sees liberals as too willing to compromise their principles, because in a world of individualism self-interest is ultimately decisive. I recall being very critical of liberalism back in the late 1960s, when it seemed to be hegemonic. I've softened my stance since then: as the right has emerged as the greater threat, liberals offer a respectable stance and critique. Related:
Stanley B Greenberg: RIP GOP: How the New America Is Dooming the Republicans (2019, Thomas Dunne Books): Pollster, worked for Clinton and Obama, seems like he's been peddling rosy futures to mainstream liberals for more than two decades now: Middle Class Dreams: Building the New Majority (1995, Crown); The New Majority: Toward a Popular Progressive Politics (ed. with Theda Skocpol, 1997, Yale University Press); The Two Americas: Our Current Political Deadlock and How to Break It (2004, Thomas Dunne Books); It's the Middle Class Stupid! (with James Carville, listed first, and probably to blame for the title, not least the missing comma; 2012, Blue Rider Press); America Ascendant: A Revolutionary Nation's Path to Addressing Its Deepest Problems and Leading the 21st Century (2015, Thomas Dunne Books). This one seems more plausible, as it shifts the focus to Republicans with their failing programs and declining demographics.
Victor Davis Hanson: The Case for Trump (2019, Basic Books): The author is supposedly expert on ancient Greek military history, but he's been such a shameless right-wing hack for so long his credentials don't carry much weight any more -- other than perhaps to make him the natural leader of the parade of hacks and hysterics with recent books defending their Fearless Leader, campaigning for him, and (most often) slandering his "enemies":
Reed Hundt: A Crisis Wasted: Barack Obama's Defining Decisions (2019, Rosetta Books): Inside adviser to Clinton (via Gore) in the 1990s, and to Obama from campaign to transition, recounts the personnel and policy decisions made by Obama during his transition and first few months which sharply limited the set of options that could be entertained to halt the collapse of the financial sector and to rebuild an economy that had been decimated by banking risks. One thing that was especially shocking was how little consideration was given to anyone other than Tim Geithner and Larry Summers for roles which ultimately prevented Obama from doing anything but protect the bankers who caused the recession. Hundt's own pet project during this period was setting up a program for infrastructure development, but it was killed by Summers on the assumption that the recession would be so short-lived that only short-term spending was needed. Other memoirs and assessments of the Obama years (skipping the most obvious right-wing rants):
Nancy Isenberg/Andrew Burstein: The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality (2019, Viking): A dual biography of father and son, the second and sixth presidents of the US, each limited to a single, controversial term as they were the exceptions to the Virginia planters who dominated the early democracy, a forum they worked in if never totally approved of. Not sure what the "cult of personality" was -- Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson are mentioned, and they no doubt qualify. Isenberg previuosly wrote White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. Burstein has written books on Jefferson, Madison, Jackson, Lincoln, and Washington Irving. His most intriguing title was Democracy's Muse: How Thomas Jefferson Became an FDR Liberal, a Reagan Republican, and a Tea Party Fanatic, All the While Being Dead (2015; paperback, 2017, University of Virginia Press).
Stuart Jeffries: Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School (2016, Verso): A group biography of the Frankfurt School, an important intersection of German Marxist thinkers who came together around 1923, and remained outside of (and often opposed to) the Soviet circle, ultimately having great influence in the development of the New Left in 1960s Europe and America. The standard book on the subject is Martin Jay: The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute for Social Research 1923-1950 (1973), which appeared when I was deeply immersed in these thinkers. Related:
Eric Kaufmann: Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities (2019, Harry N Abrams): Tempted to file this in the long list of books about how threatened white identity is shaping American and European politics, but this is a much bigger (624 pp), broader, deeper, and presumably more nuanced undertaking. Still, the very subject lies somewhere between unsavory and offensive. The basic truth is that when Europe started its project to conquer and colonize the world, it became inevitable that the conquered peoples would seep back into Europe and eventually change it: domination never lasts.
Naomi Klein: On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal (2019, Simon & Schuster): Bestselling Canadian whose critique of capitalism started with globalization -- No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (2000) -- and evolved as the neoliberal market engulfed politics -- The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007) -- and the environment -- This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014). Her vision of the Green New Deal is way to fight back, but beneath it all is an ever-sharpening critique of capitalism.
Nicholas Lemann: Transaction Man: The Rise of the Deal and the Decline of the American Dream (2019, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Profiles of "three remarkable individuals who epitomized and helped create their eras": Adolf Berle (of FDR's "brain trust"), Michael Jensen (of Harvard Business School), and Reid Hoffman (a Silicon Valley venture capitalist). Presumably the first two correspond to the Roosevelt and Reagan eras. Harder to figure where that third avatar is dragging us, but as the title suggests, the author is looking not at where we want to go, but where how the era's great profiteers intend to con us.
Christopher Leonard: Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America (2019, Simon & Schuster): Focuses more on the business behind the political forces that Jane Mayer wrote about in Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016).
Jill Lepore: This America: The Case for the Nation (2019, Liveright): A short (160 pp) postscript, I would guess, to last year's massive These Truths: A History of the United States, described as an "urgent manifesto on the dilemma of nationalism and the erosion of liberalism in the twenty-first century." Sees American history as a struggle between liberal and illiberal nationalism, and tries to buck up the former at a time when many liberal-minded folks see nationalism as an atavistic regression. Lepore's earlier The Story of America: Essays on Origins (paperback, 2013, Princeton University Press) started with the same problems, exploring them in scattered essays, as historians are prone to do.
Rachel Maddow: Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth (2019, Crown): The MSNBC pundit's obsession with Russia has been aired so thoroughly since the 2016 debacle that this book is likely to rise to the level of self-parody, but somewhere along the line Maddow discovered that Russia is a petro-state, and broadened her aim to include the international oil industry, finding particularly juicy stories in Oklahoma earthquakes.
Daniel Markovits: The Meritocracy Trap: How America's Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite (2019, Penguin Press): I thought the best previous book on "meritocracy" was Chris Hayes' Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, which made it clear that "meritocracy" was little more than a deceptive argument for maintaining the class dominance of established elites. Markovits takes the further step of arguing that "meritocracy now ensnares event hose who manage to claw their way to the top, requiring rich adults to work with crushing intensity, exploiting their expensive educations in order to extract a return." Related:
Branko Milanovic: Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World (2019, Belknap Press): Economist, wrote Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization, Aims at a big picture, noting capitalism's considerable material benefits as well as its moral failings, trying to weigh such factors. Someone more optimistic might frame this as "post-capitalism," but he sees nothing beyond -- just a long struggle to keep from devouring ourselves.
Alexander Nazaryan: The Best People: Trump's Cabinet and the Siege on Washington (2019, Hachette Books): Attempts to look past Trump's personality and showmanship, but doesn't get deep enough to see the real effects of his administration. Rather, he offers us a rogues gallery of Trump's cabinet-level deputies, who more often than not turn out to reflect the vanity and avarice of their leader. Curiously, doesn't cover the whole cabinet, with scarcely any mentions at all of State, Defense, Justice, or Homeland Security. It might be interesting to contrast this with John Nichols' Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Giude to the Most Dangerous People in America, written and rushed into print almost as soon as the initial cabinet picks were announced.
Martha C Nussbaum: The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis (2018, Simon & Schuster): Teaches philosophy in a law school, author of twenty-somebooks, won the 2016 Kyoto Prize ("the most presigious award available in fields not eligible for a Nobel" -- she accepted this the day after the Trump election, so it's a starting point), knows her Greeks and checks back with them regularly, also knows some psych and is not above folding in a little empirical research from the social sciences. Key concerns here are fear, disgust, and envy -- feelings which contribute to and exacerbate our struggles with everyday life, not least in politics.
Robert L O'Connell: Revolutionary: George Washington at War (2019, Random House): Looking for something to round out my evaluation of the USA's first president -- my gut tells me he presents a stark and illustrative counterpoint to the latest (or maybe last?) president -- I picked this up and found it fascinating. Far from hagiography, it presents us with a flesh-and-blood figure, molded by the events of war but always with a fine sense of political mission.
Daniel Okrent: The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America (2019, Scribner): Probably spent more time as an editor than anything else, first attracting notice for his baseball fandom, but lately has been writing substantial, sweeping books on history: Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center (2003), Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (2010), and now this book on the racist and xenophobic movement to pass the 1923 law that radically restricted immigration to the United States. As timely now as those working to resurrect that movement.
George Packer: Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century (2019, Knopf): Major (608 pp) biography of the late diplomat, whose career started with the American War in Vietnam, and ended with his failure to make any headway as Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Along the way, he gained a modicum of fame for brokering the Dayton Accords which ended the war between Serbia and Bosnia. Reviewers have focused on how both author and subject supported the Bush War in Iraq despite knowing better -- for Holbrooke it was a calculated cost of his ambitions to become Secretary of State (had Hillary Clinton won in 2008; with Obama winning, she settled for that position, and wrangled Holbrooke the Afghanistan/Pakistan portfolio). I suppose it's naïveté that lets Packer think Holbrooke's a worthy subject for such a massive effort. In the end, though, Holbrooke is a prime example of the moral and political bankruptcy of "the American era." And Packer's too competent a journalist not to expose that, even if he doesn't want to admit it.
Raj Patel/Jason W Moore: A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things (2017; paperback, 2018, University of California Press): A sweeping critique of capitalism, the force that cheapens things, in this case: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. This may slight what strikes me as the main effect of cheapening, which is that it makes things more plentiful. Moore previously wrote Capitalism in the Web of Life (paperback, 2015, Verso), which treats capitalism as a "world-ecology," Patel previously wrote Stuffed and Sarved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System (2008), and The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy (2010).
James Poniewozik: Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America (2019, Liveright). TV critic for the New York Times, traces Trump's long history of promotion and exposure on the tube, alongside the evolution of television from three major networks to "today's zillion-channel, internet-atomized universe, which sliced and diced them into fractious, alienated subcultures." I've long suspected that too much TV isn't a good thing -- the classic treatment is Neal Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, which I've seen this likened to -- but fragmentation would seem to limit the appeal of someone like Trump. Indeed, it took no effort to ignore him until he ran for president, and the news masters found their love/hate obsession with him. So I suspect there are more levels to this than a mere TV critic can develop, although that may be a good place to start.
Corey Robin: The Enigma of Clarence Thomas (2019, Metropolitan Books): Author of The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (or, as recently reprinted, to Donald Trump), takes a shot at reconciling contradictions in the far right Supreme Court Justice, from his early embrace of black nationalism to the extreme conservatism he is known for -- another species of "reactionary mind," determined more by what he reacts so virulently to more than anything he believes in.
Brian Rosenwald: Talk Radio's America: How an Industry Took Over a Political Party That Took Over the United States (2019, Harvard University Press): This goes back to 1988, when "desperate for content to save AM radio, top media executives stumbled on a new format that would turn the political world upside down." They may have only been seeking profits, but rage and reaction was quickly recognized as effective conservative propaganda, an easy way to move a mass of voters to support the right-wing agenda. After the Republican debacle in 2008, the dynamic changed, as mass rage wound up leading the politicians, and in Donald Trump ("the kind of pugnacious candidate they had been demanding for decades") they put their own chump in charge.
Bernie Sanders: Where We Go From Here: Two Years in the Resistance (2018, Thomas Dunne Books): These days most major election campaigns kick off with a book to introduce the candidate and set the tone for the campaign. But in 2016, Sanders waited until his campaign was over before releasing his, allowing him to open with a memoir, then tack a manifesto on at the end. He called it Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In, and it was pretty credible for the genre. This one is reportedly sketchier, but even if he's just recounting his reaction to events, he's likely to give you insights you won't pick up from the usual sources. Elsewhere in the 2020 campaign wave (some are a bit old, more are on the way; some are by non-candidates, but fit the mold; I've written about Elizabeth Warren's book previously):
Isabel Sawhill: The Forgotten Americans: An Economic Agenda for a Divided Nation (2018, Yale University Press); Economist at the "centrist" Brookings Institute, stresses the importance of "mainstream values, such as family, education, and work." Detractors decry her as left wing nut job . . . the logic of know it all 5th grader and the mind set of a soviet thug." Chapters include "Why Economic Growth Is Not Enough," "The Limits of Redistribution," "A GI Bill for America's Workers," "A Bigger Role for the Private Sector" and "Updating Social Insurance." That all seems pretty modest to me, but "conservatives" can't so much as acknowledge the problem without flying off half-cocked. Makes one wonder why bother to appeal to them anyway.
Tom Segev: A State at Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion (2019, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Big (816pp) biography of Israel's first Prime Minister, by one of Israel's most important historians. Few national leaders in our time have more completely defined their nations -- Attaturk comes to mind as the closest comparable figure, although Mao and Castro ruled longer and more forcefully. Even today, it's possible to map most currents in Israeli political life to one facet or another of Ben Gurion complex view of his mission. Other recent books relating to Israel:
JC Sharman: Empires of the Weak: The Real Story of European Expansion and the Creation of the New World Order (2019, Princeton University Press): They say "history is written by the victors," and for 500 years we've been reading about how Europe's maritime conquest of the world reflected superior technology (and, less fashionably these days, genes and religion). This thin (216 pp) book tries to flip that argument on its head, asserting that the conquest "is better explained by deference to strong Asian and African polities, disease in the Americas, and maritime supremacy earned by default because local land-oriented polities were largely indifferent to war and trade at sea." Some of these ideas resemble the ones Jared Diamond put forth in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997), but both underestimate the amount of greed, bad faith, and knavery involved. The pattern I see most clearly is that European contact always started a corrosion of traditional social, economic, and political ties well before Europeans were able to seize control.
Jake Sherman/Anna Palmer: The Hill to Die On: The Battle for Congress and the Future of Trump's America (2019, Crown): Congress beat reporters for Politico report on the two year stretch when Republicans controlled both the White House and both houses of Congress, rehashing the jockeying behind the "repeal and replace" of Obamacare, the massive corporate tax giveaway, the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, and the partial government shutdown.
Matt Taibbi: Hate Inc.: Why Today's Media Makes Us Despise One Another (2019, OR Books): Journalist, covers elections and other scandals for Rolling Stone, a path paved by Hunter Thompson, so he's all but expected to get a little gonzo. Outside the mainstream hive, he's written some of the sharpest analysis of the media's coverage of elections, starting with Spanking the Donkey: Dispatches From the Dumb Season (2005), but I thought his quickie book on 2016, Insane Clown Posse: Dispatches From the 2016 Circus failed to rise to the absurdity of events he was forced to cover. In some ways, this book looks like a do-over, but rather than stare straight into the sun, he's focusing on the mediaa, and how they got blinded not just by events but by their devil's bargain with the mega-corporations that employ them. Two appendices: "Why Rachel Maddow is on the Cover of This Book," and "An Interview with Noam Chomsky." I guess Sean Hannity's appearance on the cover (on the red side vs. Maddow on the blue) requires no further explanation. Taibbi has long had a habit of burnishing his independence by attacking both parties, or both right and left, even when there's no equivalence.
Astra Taylor: Democracy May Not Exist: But We'll Miss It When It's Gone (2019, Metropolitan Books): Ruminations on a much declaimed and frequently confused political principle, something we're taught to believe in, to pride ourselves in, yet not take too seriously, as it's been much abused by self-interested elites. That those abuses seem to increased, both in frequency and in crassness, in recent years is probably due to increasing inequality. Author also has a documentary film, What Is Democracy?, and another film on Marxian philosophe Slavoj Zizek.
Adam Tooze: Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World (2018, Viking): Economic historian, has a couple of major works: Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (2007), and The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931 (2014). This sums up the decade following the 2008 crash. There have been a lot of books about the immediate causes of the crash.
David Wallace-Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (2019, Tim Duggan Books): A general primer on global warming, albeit one that goes beyond presenting what we know to look at, and take seriously, the worst case scenarios scientists imagine -- hence the title -- without blunting the impact by parading the usual list of "what we can do about it" palliatives. Reviews tend toward hyperbole: "the most terrifying book I have ever read," and "the most important book I have ever read." May be a good lead in for yet another list of recent climate books (I started one earlier under Jeff Goodell but they do keep coming):
Brenda Wineapple: The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation (2019, Random House): This is probably number one on the short list of events that could have changed American history had it gone slightly differently. As it was, Andrew Johnson did much to weaken and undo plans to empower freed slaves and reconstruct the south more equitably. Those years he held power made it easier for white southerners to reclaim power and create a racist order that prevailed into the 1960s, with remnants still evident today. Wineapple previously wrote the broader period history, Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877 (2013; paperback, 2014, Harper Perennial). More on impeachment history (expect more on impeachment news soon):
Other recent books noted with little or no comment:
HW Brands: Heirs of the Founders: Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants (2018, Doubleday; paperback, 2019, Anchor Books).
Bill Bryson: The Body: A Guide for Occupants (2019, Doubleday).
Gail Collins: No Stopping Us Now: The Adventures of Older Women in American History (2019, Little Brown).
Jay Cost: The Price of Greatness: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and the Creation of American Oligarchy (2018, Basic Books).
Kathleen Day: Broken Bargain: Bankers, Bailouts, and the Struggle to Tame Wall Street (2019, Yale University Press).
Larry Diamond: Ill Winds: Saving Democracy From Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency (2019, Penguin Press).
Robin DiAngelo: White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (paperback, 2018, Beacon Press).
Ronan Farrow: Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators (2019, Little Brown).
Silvia Federici: Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons (paperback, 2018, PM Press).
Aaron Glantz: Homewreckers: How a Gang of Wall Street Kingpins, Hedge Fund Magnates, Crooked Banks, and Vulture Capitalists Suckered Millions Out of Their Homes and Demolished the American Dream (2019, Custom House).
Garrett M Graff: The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 (2019, Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster).
Gerald Horne: The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in Seventeenth-Century North America and the Caribbean (paperback, 2018, Monthly Review Press).
Tom LoBianco: Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House (2019, Dey Street Books).
George Monbiot: Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis (paperback, 2018, Verso Books).
Philip Mudd: Black Site: The CIA in the Post-9/11 World (2019, Liveright).
Margaret O'Mara: The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America (2019, Penguin Press).
Samantha Power: The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir (2019, Dey Street Books).
Susan Rice: Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For (2019, Simon & Schuster).
Christopher Ryan: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress (2019, Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster).
Tatiana Schlossberg: Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don't Know You Have (2019, Grand Central Publishing).
Rebecca Solnit: Whose Story Is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters (paperback, 2019, Haymarket Books).
The Washington Post: The Mueller Report (paperback, 2019, Scribner).
Gary Younge: Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives (2016; paperback, 2018, Bold Type Books).
Saturday, June 1, 2019
When I posted my latest Book Roundup on March 15 -- eleven months after my only 2018 compilation, after two in 2017, four in 2016, and five in 2015 -- I figured another one would be eminent. I got distracted, but here's a second batch of 40+ books, and I'm pretty certain that a third will be ready in a few weeks. These surveys are useful to me as a means of keeping track of what the world knows and is thinking about. I've been trying to track "the coming dark age" for some time now, but while lots of people seem to be getting dumber (or at least more certain of their ignorance), a lot of smart thinking is still being developed and preserved in books.
As I've started doing recently, I'm including various related books in bullet lists following a leading one. There's also a supplemental list at the end, of books worth noting but not (as far as I'm concerned) at much length.
Jill Abramson: Merchants of Truth: The Business and the Fight for Facts (2019, Simon & Schuster): Tries to update David Halberstam's The Powers That Be (1979) by profiling four major media corporation (The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, and VICE) as they make business out of the public's appetite for news. That, of course, raises the question of how the selection and reporting of news is filtered and often distorted by each of their business and cultural models. That's an intrinsically interesting question, but not necessarily one that can be answered -- for one thing the author adds her own limited vantage point. I can't say anything about charges that sections of the book were plagiarized. Related:
Carol Anderson: One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy (2018, Bloomsbury USA): At some point in recent history, Republicans came to realize that it was easier to win by suppressing the vote among Democratic constituencies than it was to convince those voters of a political program which actually promises little more than to make the rich richer at the expense of everyone else. Of course, this isn't new: all republics have struggled over who counts and who doesn't, but the core idea of democracy -- each and every person is entitled to the same vote -- has been hard to argue with, until very recently. Even now, even among Republicans, the arguments tend to be disguised, and much of the mischief avoids the spotlight. Also wrote, with Tonya Bolden, We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide (2018, Bloomsbury). Previously wrote: White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (2016). Also on voting rights:
Max Blumenthal: The Management of Savagery: How America's National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump (2019, Verso): For the most part, a basic primer on how the US fed and nurtured its eventual enemies in the Middle East, in a long series of events that ultimately show how arrogant and self-centered the architects of American policy have been. That general book has been written a half-dozen times already, with dozens of other tomes treating one aspect or another of the big picture. However, by dropping Trump into the title, he's adding another dimension: not just what American plots and wars have done to the Middle East, but what such persistent warmaking has done to the psyches of ignorant and oblivious Americans-- Trump being an example.
Steven Brill: Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America's Fifty-Year Fall -- and Those Fighting to Reverse It (2018, Knopf): Journalist, wrote a book on Obamacare called America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healtcare System (2015), looks for a bigger picture and finds it in "an erosion of responsibility and accountability, an epidemic of shortsightedness, an increasingly hollow economic and political center, and millions of Americans gripped by apathy and hopelessness." That sounds a bit like a backgrounder for Trump's "Make American Great Again" campaign slogan, but it appears that the culprit Brill identifies is Trump's own billionaire class.
Arthur C Brooks: Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt (2019, Broadside Books): Someone might be able to write a decent book on this theme, but I doubt that the president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative propagandist who revels in his sense of moral superiority, is up to the task. Previous feel-good books include: Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism (2006); Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America -- and How We Can Get More of It (2008); The Battle: How the Fight Between Big Government and Free Enterprise Will Shape America's Future (2010); The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise (2012), and The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America (2015). Turns out that it's easy to "love your enemies" once you've ground them under heel, which is the author's real mission. More recent efforts to make the conservatives seem like they think and care:
Contrast these with the right's more pedestrian hackwork, designed to rile up hatred (and otherwise confuse you):
Paul Buhle/Steve Max: Eugene V Debs: A Graphic Biography (paperback, 2019, Verso): Buhle was editor of Radical America, a major historian of American radical movements (co-editor of Encyclopedia of the American Let), and a long-time of the graphic book form, so the only thing surprising here is that it took so long to come together. Art by Noah Van Sciver, with additional help by Dave Nance. Actually, I've noted several of Buhle's graphic histories in the past. Here's a longer list (credits aren't always clear):
Chapo Trap House: The Chapo Guide to Revolution: A Manifesto Against Logic, Facts, and Reason (2018, Atria Books): I went through a kneejerk period in the 1960s when I rebelled so hard against the liberal warmongers of the Democratic Party that I was willing to throw away all appeals to "logic, facts, and reason," and embrace its opposite (arts, irrationality, mysticism). I changed my tune when I found that one could arrive at right conclusions through reason, and I wound up more dedicated to rationality than ever before. So at first glance I took this book to be complete, reactionary bullshit. But it turns out this is meant to be funny, and it's aimed at young people today who feel the same incoherent rage and disgust over the powers that be as I felt back in the 1960s. The authors are comedians who run some kind of podcast. And while there are some lame jokes and outright bullshit here, their core claim harbors a kernel of truth: "Capitalism, and the politics it spawns, is not working for anyone under thirty who is not a sociopath." Once you understand that, you can look elsewhere for better-reasoned explanations and proposals, but that insight is a good place to start.
Sarah Churchwell: Behold, America: The Entangled History of "America First" and "the American Dream" (2018, Basic Books): Two iconic notions, offered as sweeping generalizations about America's role in the world, adopted by various political movements for varying ends depending on the time and place. The contemporary interest angle is that both played large roles in the 2016 election, perhaps even more so than in their long and storied past. On the other hand, they're basically bullshit, at once able to flatter and mislead their political targets, and there's something rather hollow about stretching a book around them.
Kimberly Clausing: Open: The Progressive Case for Free Trade, Immigration, and Global Capital (2019, Harvard University Press): Theory tells us that free trade and unrestricted mobility of capital and labor increases wealth all around. The reality is something else, as global capital has exploited economic theory to effectively escape nation-state regulation, leading to ever more extreme inequality, stripping most people of most nations of their political standing. That has in turn produced a backlash, both on the reactionary right and on the left, which sees things like "free trade agreements" as little more than a power- and wealth-grab. Causing attempts to save theory from practice, by advancing political schemes to make open borders work for everyone.
Anna Clark: The Poisoned City: Flint's Water and the American Urban Tragedy (2018, Metropolitan Books): We routinely receive warnings about America's crumbling infrastructure, but usually assume those threats are things that could happen in the future, not things already happening today. But the water system in Flint, Michigan has already turned toxic, killing and irreparably harming people who merely happened to live in the wrong place.
Michael D'Antonio/Peter Eisner: The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence (2018, Thomas Dunne Books): Two key questions here: How bad is Pence? And how powerful is he? Trump had promised to give his vice president unprecedented day-to-day power -- the first evidence of that was that Pence had the leading role in staffing the administration, which is how Trump got surrounded by so many orthodox extreme conservatives. But beyond his immediate influence, I can't recall a moment of disharmony between Trump and Pence -- indeed, hard to think of anyone else in the administration one can say that about. Part of this is that Pence has been eager and willing to support Trump's Kulturkampf fetishes, no matter how loony (e.g., his stunt leaving a NFL game after players took the knee during the national anthem, or his ridiculous task of holding the official press conference announcing the Space Force). The import of this is how Pence has set an example for even the most hopelessly ideological Republicans to line up behind and join forces with Trump.
Jared Diamond: Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis (2019, Little Brown): An anthropologist who since his famous Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997) has used his license to practice macrohistory, taking a view that straddles vast stretches of time and space to wrap big questions up into tidy boxes. He picks on six countries for his turning points this time: Japan (forced opening by US in 1860s), Finland (attacked by Soviet Union in 1939 following their "non-aggression" pact with Nazi Germany), Germany and Austria (post-WWII), Indonesia and Chile (victims of US-backed coups in 1965 and 1973). He draws lessons for Americans today. I doubt he has much to say about karma.
William Egginton: The Splintering of the American Mind: Identity Politics, Inequality, and Community on Today's College Campuses (2018, Bloomsbury): "Egginton argues that our colleges and universities have become exclusive, expensive clubs for the cultural and economic elite instead of a national, publicly funded project for the betterment of the country. Only a return to the goals of community, and the egalitarian values underlying a liberal arts education, can head off the further fracturing of the body politic and the splintering of the American mind." Lots of gripes about higher education these days, many from the right. Hard for me to sort these book out, probably because my own stake in academia is so tenuous:
David Graeber: Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (2018, Simon & Schuster): It's long been obvious -- I first picked up this insight from a book by Paul Sweezy written in the 1950s -- that we have a lot of jobs that don't really produce anything of value, that are effectively pointless and parasitical, what Graeber has finally called bullshit. He's an anthropologist and anarchist, the writer of a major tome Debt: The First 5,000 Years, and a book of his experience and theory of Occupy Wall Street, The Democracy Project:A History, a Crisis, a Movement.
Greg Grandin: The End of Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America (2019, Metropolitan Books): Author of a number of first-rate books on America's impact on Latin America -- e.g., Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (2006) -- easily sees the links between two centuries of US aggression and the militarization of the US-Mexico border. Timely enough to include Trump's border wall fixation, though not the latest blow up in Venezuela.
Bradley W Hart: Hitler's American Friends: The Third Reich's Supporters in the United States (2018, Thomas Dunne Books): Some were well known, like Charles Coughlin and Charles Lindbergh, the Bund and the America First Committee. I wouldn't be surprised to hear names like Koch and Trump pop up, although neither appear in what I've read. Still, I'd guess that actual supporters were fewer in number than sympathizers and apologists, especially those with home-grown racist and/or anti-labor agendas. On the other hand I really doubt that every isolationist was anti-semitic. Before WWII, Americans had a long history of believing that we should stay away from foreign entanglements, and the war schemes they lead to.
Daniel Immerwahr: How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States (2019, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Beyond the 48 continental states, the US managed to pick up various far-flung lands, and has actually managed to keep more of them than any European rival: Alaska and Hawaii have become full-fledged states, Puerto Rico and various smaller islands are in limbo, the Philippines were let go but only losing them to Japan, the Panama Canal Zone was returned to Panama (which was itself a US creation), Cuba was never officially on the books but treated like a colony until its revolution. This surveys most of that list, stopping short of the coups and incursions and a globe-straddling archipelago of bases and even more pervasive property claims by private Americans and friendly investors.
Stephen Kinzer: The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire (2017; paperback, 2018, St Martin's Griffin): To be clear, Roosevelt was for and Twain was against in this particular political debate (c. 1898, what we've dubbed the Spanish-American War) over whether America should impose itself on others as an empire -- arguably not the first such debate, and most certainly not the last. Evan Thomas covered the pro-empire side (mostly) in The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire (2010); also Kinzer has previously written about the 1898 annexation of Hawaii in Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq (2006). Still, would be good to pay more attention to the anti-war/empire arguments.
Eric Klinenberg: Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life (2018, Crown): Sociologist, writes about the value of shared spaces -- examples given include libraries, childcare centers, bookstores, churches, synagogues, and parks -- for building social bonds and a sense of common interests, as opposed to the fragmentation and isolation that has lately taken hold almost everywhere.
Kevin M Kruse/Julian E Zelizer: Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974 (2019, WW Norton): A broad history of what I've started calling the Reagan-to-Trump era, backing up a couple years (the falls of Nixon and Saigon, OPEC embargoes, desegregation riots in Boston) to get a running start. Jill Lepore says this details how "Americans abandoned a search for common ground in favor of a political culture of endless, vicious, and -- very often -- mindless division." Kruse previously wrote White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (2005), and One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (2015). Zelizer has written The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society (2015, Penguin Press), and a few more, including books on the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.
Milton Lodge/Charles S Taber: The Rationalizing Voter (paperback, 2013, Cambridge University Press): Argues that "political behavior is the result of innumerable unnoticed forces and conscious deliberation is often a rationalization of automatically triggered feelings and thoughts," testing five basic hypotheses: "hot cognition, automaticity, affect transfer, affect contagion, and motivated reasoning." Yglesias used this book to explain Kanye West's embrace of Trump.
Michael Mandelbaum: The Rise and Fall of Peace on Earth (2019, Oxford University Press): Argues that "in the twenty-five years after 1989, the world enjoyed the deepest peace in history." Further asserts that this blissful state ended "because three major countries -- Vladimir Putin's Russia in Europe, Xi Jinping's China in East Asia, and the Shia clerics' Iran in the Middle East -- put an end to end to it With aggressive nationalist policies aimed at overturning the prevailing political arrangements in their respective regions." Pretty amazing that anyone can look at the last 25-30 years and fail to identify the one nation that has been almost constantly at war, attacking "enemies" in more than a dozen countries scattered all around the world. Also that the author overlooked a number of other wars that broke out during the period, including the period's most deadly wars (in and around Congo).
Bill McKibben: Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? (2019, Henry Holt): Wrote one of the early books on global warming, The End of Nature (1989). I read it during a mid-summer trip to Florida, where my initial skepticism was overcome by seeing and feeling how much heat could be absorbed into the atmosphere. Still, I hated his metaphor, and he has a knack for coming up with new irritating ways to say the same thing ever since. (Eaarth was the worst.) This is his latest, probably even more impassioned as he's made his career move from critic to activist. I'd probably find his 2013 memoir, Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist, more to my taste than this doomsday screed. But despite the hyperbole, he's been basically right all along. You have to respect that.
John J Mearsheimer: The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities (2018, Yale University Press): Foreign policy mandarin, subscribes to the realist wing like his sometime co-author Stephen M Walt, has developed a healthy skepticism about how American foreign policy is practiced. Problem here is likely to be his choice of "Liberal Dreams" as his evil strawman. Although political liberals, especially in the anti-communist 1950s, readily supported America's originally bipartisan, military-first foreign policy, this policy has never advanced "liberal dreams." For the last 30-40 years, "liberal hegemony" has never been more than a neocon ruse, an attempt to dress up old-fashioned imperial power projection with a patina of nice words. Meanwhile, Walt has his own new book:
Steve Pearlstein: Can American Capitalism Survive? Why Greed Is Not Good, Opportunity Is Not Equal, and Fairness Won't Make Us Poor (2018, St Martin's Press): Reminded me first of Robert Kuttner's 2018 book Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism (still unread on my shelf), but the questions are slightly different. Pearlstein seems to assume democracy will have the final say, and asks instead whether capitalism can be reformed in ways that will make it palatable to most people. Clearly, its current practices like "squeezing workers, cheating customers, avoiding taxes, and leaving communities in the lurch" tend to undermine public trust and confidence.
Nomi Prins: Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World (2018, Nation Books): Former bond trader, found her calling writing about the banking racket in the Bush years -- Other People's Money: The Corporate Mugging of America (2004), Jacked: How "Conservatives" Are Picking Your Pocket (Whether You Voted for Them or Not) (2006), It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses, and Backroom Deals From Washington to Wall Street (2009) -- looks at how "the open door between private and central banking has ensured endless opportunities for market manipulation and asset bubbles." I'm not a big fan of the titles per sé, but few people have written more lucidly about how theirs racket works.
John Quiggin: Economics in Two Lessons: Why Markets Work So Well, and Why They Can Fail So Badly (2019, Princeton University Press): Author of Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us, an important effort to clear out much of the dead wood, takes up Henry Hazlitt's 1946 classic, Economics in One Lesson, which he summarizes as "leave markets alone, and all will be well." But all isn't well, as there are many cases of market failures, so Quiggin adds "Lesson Two: Market prices don't reflect all the opportunity costs we face as a society." He gives 400 pages of examples and explanations, in what may be one of the essential texts of modern economics.
Eric Rauchway: Winter War: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the First Clash Over the New Deal (2018, Basic Books): After an overwhelming majority of Americans voted to free themselves from President Herbert Hoover, they faced a four-month delay until the new president could be sworn in -- a period so grueling that the US Constitution was changed to move future inaugurations up from March to January. This book covers those four months, a kind of pre-history to the famous "100 days" that followed Franklin Roosevelt's inauguration. In terms of anticipatory obstructionism, Hoover probably holds the record -- although John Adams in 1800-01 raised the bar, and Donald Trump will no doubt try to top them all in the shorter 2020-21 transition period.
Richard Rhodes: Energy: A Human History (2018, Simon & Schuster): Recaps the history of mankind as the story of claiming and taming sources of energy, possibly starting with human and domesticated animal muscle, but wood, coal, oil, and nuclear play larger roles in this story -- Rhodes seems to be especially fond of nuclear, although the four major books he's written on nuclear bombs can be read as cautionary tales. I've read those four books, plus a couple more, and don't doubt that he is capable of synthesizing such a large and important story.
Nathaniel Rich: Losing Earth: A Recent History (2019, MCD): A history, pointing out that by 1979 "we knew nearly everything we understand today about climate change -- including how to stop it," which goes on to show how supposedly responsible people failed to act on that knowledge, letting us slide into the ever-increasing crisis we face today. The Reagan administration's determination to promote coal and cripple the EPA and drive science from the policy process -- I'd say "echoes of Trump" but it's the other way around -- were key, but the thing you keep running into is human reluctance to deal with a catastrophe that seems to merely loom in the future, because the worst hasn't struck yet.
Sam Rosenfeld: The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan Era (2017, University of Chicago Press): Assumes that the problem with politics today is partisan polarization, and seeks to find where that came from by examining the political period from 1945 through 1980, moving from "The Idea of Responsible Partisanship" to "The Making of a Vanguard Party" and "Liberal Alliance-Building for Lean Times." Winds up with a chapter on 1980-2000 and a "Conclusion: Polarization without Responsibility, 2000-2016." Rosenfeld attributes the idea that the two parties should be realigned on a liberal-conservative axis to Franklin Roosevelt. What actually forced the realignment was a single issue -- civil rights -- which straddled the 1980 divide (what we might call the tipping point). Whether this was a good or bad thing depends a lot on how important you think that issue is. But more generally, polarization always occurs when issues become more serious and less amenable to compromise -- and we see that happening now, on race (of course) but also on the more general principles of equality, fairness, justice, and whether government will serve or oppress the vast majority of the people. I don't mean to argue that polarization has no down side. The main one is that it's led one party in particular to view politics as a zero-sum game, even worse as it's blinded that party to recognizing common problems (most obviously, climate change, which Republicans furiously deny because it's inconvenient for some of their major donors).
Joseph E Stiglitz: People, Power, and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent (2019, WW Norton): Major liberal economist, advised Clinton in the 1990s and bragged about it in The Roaring Nineties: A New History of the World's Most Prosperous Decade (2003), warned about Bush in the 2000s and reminded us in Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy (2010), wrote an important book on The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future (2012), and several books on trade, starting with Globalization and Its Discontents (2002). I've read (and admired) most of his books, but overlooked an earlier book, Whither Socialism?, which claimed that "market socialism" couldn't work. His analysis back then probably has much to do with his decision now to push for what he calls "progressive capitalism" as the alternative to the burgeoning movement for socialism. I'm sure he's very smart about it, but I always find it a bit sad that the only occasions when the left gains enough power to do something, they first have to spend all their energy saving capitalism's sorry ass.
Bhaskar Sunkara: The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality (2019, Basic Books). Editor of Jacobin offers a primer on the history of socialism since the mid-1800s and "a realistic vision for its future" -- well short of the Soviet-era ideals, but carefully, cautiously tailored to provide universal, fair and equitable solutions to economic problems. Related:
Michael W Twitty: The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South (2017, Amistad): A family history back to its roots, focusing on the food that made each generation, and crossed in various ways from black to white and back. Also on food and the South: John T Edge: The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South (2017, Penguin).
Craig Unger: House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia (2018, Dutton): A journalist with a nose for corrupt relationships, previously wrote House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties (2004), seems to have a ripe subject digging into Trump's various deals with Russian mobsters and oligarchs.
Jose Antonio Vargas: Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen (2018, Dey Street Books): Author spent 25 years as an "undocumented" American, "living illegally in a country that does not consider me one of its own," before outing himself to write about the experience in the New York Times -- becoming a spokesman for the millions of "undocumented" Americans. Less about immigration either as policy or practice than about what it feels like to live in a country you have to hide from. Other recent books on immigration:
William T Vollmann: Carbon Ideologies: Volume One: No Immediate Danger/Volume Two: No Good Alternative (2018, Viking): Mostly a novelist, occasionally writes non-fiction and has been known to get carried away, like his Imperial (1306 pp). This "almanac of global energy use" is similar-sized, but published in two volumes.
Jon Ward: Camelot's End: Kennedy vs. Carter and the Fight That Broke the Democratic Party (2019, Twelve): This suggests that Reagan's triumph in 1980 had more to do with a breakdown caused by Ted Kenndy's almost unprecedented primary challenge against a president of his own party. The closest analogy I can think of was Teddy Roosevelt's rebuke of William Howard Taft in 1912, which wound up with his Bull Moose third party and both losing to Woodrow Wilson. Lots of parallels there, not least the challengers' sense of entitlement. Looking back now it's clear that Carter was a forerunner of many of Reagan's issues, and as such helped to legitimize someone who had previously been viewed as a far-right fringe candidate. One wonders whether the clearer choice that Kennedy might have presented would have faired better.
Alan Wolfe: The Politics of Petulance: America in an Age of Immaturity (2018, University of Chicago Press). More like senescence, which has less to do with age than the popular choice 38 years ago to turn away from facing reality and pretend we're fine in Ronald Reagan's fantasy world. Wolfe is a political science prof (emeritus) with a long list of books, including The Seamy Side of Democracy: Repression in America (1973), Marginalized in the Middle (1996), Does American Democracy Still Work? (2006), and At Home in Exile: Why Diaspora Is Good for the Jews (2014). I last noticed him when he published The Future of Liberalism (2009), a spirited defense that this must contrast with.
Shoshana Zuboff: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (2019 PublicAffairs): Seems to focus on the new information businesses, specifically the ones that track your every step in navigating the Internet, and analyze and market that information to others hoping to manipulate you. I'm not sure how far you can push this model: is it really that important? I suspect it may even be self-limiting.
Other recent books also noted without comment:
Ben S Bernanke/Timothy F Geithner/Henry M Paulson Jr: Firefighting: The Financial Crisis and Its Lessons (paperback, 2019, Penguin Books).
William J Burns: The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal (2019, Random House).
Tucker Carlson: Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class Is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution (2018, Free Press).
Robert A Caro: Working (2019, Knopf).
Susan Faludi: In the Darkroom (2016, Metropolitan Books; paperback, 2017, Picador).
Henry Louis Gates Jr: Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (2019, Penguin Press).
Gary Giddins: Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star: The War Years 1940-1946 (2018, Little Brown).
Jonah Goldberg: Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics Is Destroying American Democracy (2018, Crown Forum).
Max Hastings: Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975 (2018, Harper).
Steven Johnson: Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most (2018, Riverhead Books).
Dan Kaufman: The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics (2018, WW Norton).
Yasmin Khan: India at War: The Subcontinent and the Second World War (2015, Oxford University Press).
Lawrence Lessig: America, Compromised (2018, University of Chicago Press).
Steve Luxenberg: Separate: The Story of Plessy V. Ferguson, and America's Journey From Slavery to Segregation (2019, WW Norton).
Anna Merlan: Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power (2019, Metropolitan Books).
Ashoka Mody: Euro Tragedy: A Drama in Nine Acts (2018, Oxford University Press).
Raghuram Rajan: The Third Pillar: How Markets and the State Leave the Community Behind (2019, Penguin Press).
Jeffrey D Sachs: A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism (2018, Columbia University Press).
Darrel M West: Divided Politics, Divided Nation: Hyperconflict in the Trump Era (2019, Brookings Institution Press).
Joan C Williams: White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America (2017, Harvard Business Review Press).