PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIn the journalist Joshua Prager’s ardently reported and painfully timely epic, The Family Roe, Jane Roe is both heroine and villain—and a paragon of human complexity. If you like your stories the way too many of us now do—pat, with the narrative reverse-engineered to validate your priors—this book is not for you. But it is if you want an honest glimpse into the American soul, into the foul and sometimes fruitful marriage of activism and commerce, into the ways in which people can be and believe contradictory things, into the inner and outer lives of women squelched and tossed by reproductive tyranny ... heart-wrenching corpus of evidence of how women’s lives \'are redirected by unwanted pregnancy\' ... Prager’s scope is giant, and, like any gathering of family, sometimes it’s too much. The stories are beautifully rendered, but the mind loses track of characters ... It’s at once impressive and excessive, and, while all the detail slows the narrative, I also understand it. For it is in the sheer volume of disparate stories that you appreciate the colossal cost of tying women for decades to the consequences of encounters that might have lasted a half-hour (at best) and may or may not have been meaningfully chosen ... What Prager is attempting is risky ... it seems as valiant an effort as someone could make to understand from without, an effort to praise—and, on this issue, in this moment, an effort more men must make.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... sober, densely reported ... promises a history of \'the rise and fall of the death penalty.\' But as it tells that focused tale, it becomes — almost unwittingly — a case study that speaks more broadly to our current moment, about building monumental change brick by brick ... If Chammah can be a dry writer, he is at his most enjoyable in unpacking the philosophical puzzles raised by the death penalty. He understands that the questions given to juries and judges in such cases are among the most profound that human beings can answer ... Along the way, we learn frightening and funny and astonishing things about the justice system, and the death in particular ... Throughout the book, such details stand out — and compensate for the fact that Chammah’s writing can be workmanlike and staid. At times, there are almost too many lines of fact to keep track of — too many minor characters whose names we must recall, too many sad death cases to keep straight. Sometimes you long for a through-line ... Then it hit me. The book’s form and its limitations underscore its barely explicit but unmistakable thesis: that change doesn’t happen because of singular heroes; that it isn’t elegant or linear; that it comes through the planting of many seeds, only a small number of which will sprout; that you never know precisely where you are in the process. In a way, the book is a tribute to legwork ... Chammah is here to remind us that in our lifetimes a sea change has happened. It’s not over yet. But it’s a triumph all the same. And if you’re one of those people who despair that nothing changes, and dream that something can, this is a story of how it does.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... essential, absorbing, infuriating, full-of-facts-you-didn’t-know, saxophonely written ... Now, this is one of those situations where the book is better than the review, so you should read it, but let me give you a sense of the many dimensions of the hijacking Andersen details. He makes a definitive, exhaustive and only very occasionally exhausting case that life changed profoundly in America starting in the 1970s and well into the 1980s, in ways that trap us still ... Mayer and others — Robert Reich, George Packer, Jacob S. Hacker — have told versions of this story before. And at first, while reading Evil Geniuses, that annoyed me. Until I understood what this book really is: Andersen’s retrospective on the bigger themes and trend lines and power grabs that he, and so many others, missed, even as he was writing magazine stories about the people and institutions in question. The book is an intellectual double take, a rereporting of the great neoliberal conquest, by a writer who kicks himself for missing it at the time ... Andersen’s sense of culpability and his permeability to new facts give his book its particular power. It is a radicalized moderate’s moderate case for radical change. Andersen is unambiguous about where America needs to go; he is honest about what it took to get him to his current views; and he writes not as a haranguer who presumes you’re with him but as a journalist who presumes you’re not, that you might even think as he once did. So, carefully, meticulously, overwhelmingly, he argues through facts ... And with his own complicity in mind, one place Andersen does break some new ground is in the portrayal of the shameful liberal complicity that was essential to the long plutocratic hijacking ... As he makes this wide-ranging case, Andersen never loses the texture of actual human beings. He flies his plane over vast territory, but he flies at low altitude so you’re always able to see real people sowing this future, going down these roads. He is a graceful, authoritative guide, and he has a Writer-with-a-capital-W’s ability to defamiliarize the known ... not a perfect book. At certain moments, more than a few times, there is a broad-brush characterization of the American spirit or temperament or enjoyment of liberty that clearly did not apply to Black Americans, a caveat Andersen omits...It is also a long book that occasionally loops back on itself. And, to my taste at least, it didn’t need the brief history of Covid at the end. I like my books like I like my exes: at a remove from my current situation.
PanThe New York TimesThe New Class War, by Michael Lind, the author of numerous books of nonfiction, fiction and poetry, anchors itself firmly in the why-is-this-happening genre. Unfortunately, because its theory seems to have predated, and been awaiting, this moment, it takes a great amount of jamming to fit Lind’s peg into the hole of the present situation. And the explanation that results is marked by an appalling minimization of the most dangerous administration in our lifetimes and a highly distorted portrait of Trump supporters as victims ... Lind’s heart genuinely hurts for those shafted by oligarchy. But he is limited by conceptual blinders. And he seems to have an outdated (if widely shared) idea of who is a working-class person. When he thinks about what the oligarchy has done to America, he tends to think of white men as the principal victims. And when he begins to detail how these supporters of populism have been oppressed by the schoolteachers-to-billionaires overclass, things get really weird ... Look, writing a book about Trump-era populism without a lens of racial awareness must be hard ... what is missing from the book, and might have saved it, is actual human beings ... what is missing from the book, and might have saved it, is actual human beings ... This is a book written from the brain more than from the collision with the complexities of experience. It is a book that would have benefited from getting out there, interviewing people, testing theories against reality, heading down to the border, unearthing documents showing how companies think about the issues in question ... The New Class War lacks the texture and earth and seduction of real portraiture.
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewSo I dug into Diamond’s latest, intrigued by his thesis that the way individual humans cope with crisis might teach something to countries. Then, before long, the first mistake caught my eye; soon, the 10th. Then graver ones. Errors, along with generalizations, blind spots and oversights, that called into question the choice to publish. I began to wonder why we give some people, and only some, the platform, and burden, to theorize about everything ... The Framework is driving the inquiry here, and everything stands at its service ... Sometimes the book feels written from a drying well of lifelong research rather than from the latest facts ... A remaining problem with Upheaval is one that cannot be fact-checked away, but, happily, is already being fixed across the world of letters. Until recently, in much of American life, and American writing, the default setting of human being was white and/or male. Today so much writing shatters this default, complicates the point of view. And Upheaval reminds us why that matters.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewYes, the world has gotten better for hundreds of millions. But Fukuyama reminds us that across much of the West, people have suffered dislocation and elites have captured the fruits ... Unlike many avuncular critics of identity politics, Fukuyama is sympathetic to the good such politics does—above all, making the privileged aware of their effect on marginalized groups ... Fukuyama does have his criticisms, however ... Fukuyama worries that the \'woke\' the left gets on identity issues, the weaker it gets on offering a critique of capitalism ... A low-key shortcoming of Fukuyama’s book is that...it is a book about books about books. On the one hand, theorists gotta theorize. On the other, with an issue so fraught and a world so full of rage, [the] author could have made good use of a rental car and the Voice Memos app ... [the book] lack[ed] the earth and funk and complexity of dreaming, hurting human beings.
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewA quotation from a witness seemingly comes closest to Tillman’s own view: 'I know he did wrong, but we don’t know what was going on in their world.' Perhaps the most egregious moment in the book is when Tillman lists four 'scenarios,' none of which she says can be ruled out. One of them is that the children were, as Rubio said, 'possessed' by spirits. Declining to call this scenario an impossible fiction is privilege-checking taken to a disgusting extreme. She writes, 'It’s impossible to make a judgment as to which perceptions are real, and which are false, without assuming your personal view to be more valid than your neighbor’s.' Is a book without judgment, a personal view and confidence in its validity still a book?