RaveThe Washington PostThe Quiet Americans focuses on the lives of four engaging and adventure-seeking men, using the techniques of collective biography to tell a story at once sweeping in its scope and fascinating in its particulars ... The four-character structure seems to be especially appealing to chroniclers of the early CIA ... Anderson enjoys his characters and brings the reader in on their jokes ... Anderson is sympathetic to...the perceived need for expanded intelligence capabilities and the worries about what they might mean for democratic values ... A skillful and engaging writer, he manages to provide efficient historical context for these local-but-global situations, each one hopelessly complex in its own right, with its own combination of factional and territorial and cultural disputes. What ties them all together is the problem at the heart of the book: how the United States came to see its national interest at stake nearly everywhere in the world.
Andrew J. Bacevich
PositiveThe Washington PostThe Age of Illusions is a wry and dark book aimed at dissecting decades-long trends and first principles rather than moment-to-moment crises. Bacevich is as merciless toward liberals who he says are guilty of \'self-righteously posturing against Trump\' as toward the president himself ... one gets the sense that he would like The Age of Illusions to play a role similar to, say, Mills’s 1956 The Power Elite, even if, as he contends, the \'practical impact\' of such ideas never seemed to amount to much ... Bacevich’s emphasis on the past 30 years as a period of consensus departs from an arguably more popular and widespread narrative, in which American politics during that time fell victim to polarization and hyper-partisanship, and to entrenched conflicts over race, culture and civil rights. The Age of Illusions does not devote much time to differences of opinion within the so-called elite, though Bacevich defines that category widely, including NPR listeners and Washington Post subscribers (that may be you, dear reader), along with \'Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the Israel lobby, the National Rifle Association, the national security apparatus, and megadonors like the Koch brothers.\' He sees today’s more meaningful divide as one of class, with poor and working-class Americans fighting America’s wars as supposed volunteers, while the \'disturbingly inbred and self-perpetuating political elite\' who sent them off to battle remains insulated from the consequences of its own decisions.
James B. Stewart
RaveThe Washington PostIn times of crisis, history can be a comfort, reminding us that our own era is not nearly as dire or unique as we might think. James B. Stewart’s new book...does the opposite: It’s a first draft of history that reminds us just how bizarre these times really are ... Stewart has assembled a gripping blow-by-blow account of President Trump’s years-long showdown with the FBI ... Readers will be familiar with the basic outlines: the election itself, the Trump-Russia investigation, the firing of FBI director James Comey, the release of the Steele dossier. But encountering it all smashed between the pages of a single book is a new experience, less the stop-start jerkiness of a tweetstorm than the slow-build dread of a dramatic tragedy ... This makes the book a timely guide for the layperson hoping to brush up on the whole sorry saga (who was George Papadopoulos again?), even if it does not yield new impeachment-worthy smoking guns ... What makes the book more than a recitation of unseemly facts is its well-rendered human drama ... If Stewart appreciates the human aspects of this confrontation, he also sees larger issues at stake. At the heart of the book, and of our recent politics, is a conflict over the very idea of nonpartisan, professional government work, so central to the identity of an agency like the FBI ... Deep State delivers the critical first chapters of...the Trump era, as we all watch and wait to find out how it is going to end.
MixedThe Washington Post\"[Kerry\'s story] could have been a complicated tale, spiked with insight about the dilemmas of power or the challenges of legitimacy now facing America’s liberal elite. But Kerry mostly skims along the surface, offering stories of boarding school and Vietnam and the campaign trail in an even, conversational tone. Many of those stories — especially about Vietnam and Massachusetts politics — are interesting, but the whole never quite manages to be greater than the sum of its parts ... [Kerry] shies away from some knotty questions — including his decision to support the Iraq War more than three decades after denouncing Vietnam as a mistake and a national tragedy. Kerry ends up blaming George W. Bush for failing to deliver on commitments to diplomacy and multilateralism, but he reserves his greatest umbrage for the antiwar activists who split with him over Iraq ... Kerry is at his best not in wrestling with such existential difficulties but in describing the dilemmas of on-the-ground politics: how to choose a vice-presidential candidate, how to decide whether to accept public money.\
E.J. Dionne Jr. & Norman J. Ornstein & Thomas E. Mann
PositiveThe Washington PostIts emphasis is less on Trump, however, than on the long-term structural and cultural changes that made his election possible. The authors have no patience for a ‘both sides’ argument about the degradation of our political culture. They lay the blame firmly within the Republican Party … So what is to be done? If the book’s first half focuses on the sorry state of things today, the second half focuses on how to not make the same mistakes in the future. The authors claim to be genuinely — if tentatively — hopeful about what Trump’s election may ultimately yield for American civic life … It is hard to object to much about these plans, with their emphasis on fairness and comity and partisan goodwill. And yet there is something incongruous about the authors’ belief that good policy, judiciously presented, will yield the desired political transformation. As the authors note, one of the more depressing lessons of the 2016 election was that policy simply didn’t matter much.
PanThe New York Times Book Review[Lilla] says his aim is to unify today’s fractured liberals around an agenda 'emphasizing what we all share and owe one another as citizens, not what differentiates us.' Unfortunately, he does this in a way guaranteed to alienate vast swaths of his audience, and to deepen left-of-center divisions. Rather than engage in good faith with movements like Black Lives Matter, Lilla chooses to mock them, reserving a particularly meanspirited sneer for today’s campus left ... All too often Lilla opts for attitude over substance. Though he calls for liberals to adopt 'a coldly realistic view of how we live now,' he spends much of his book jeering from afar at millennial 'social justice warriors,' whose 'resentful, disuniting rhetoric' supposedly destroyed a once-great liberal tradition ... Lilla’s labels can be slippery; he often conflates liberals, leftists and Democrats. By contrast he takes a rather narrow view of 'identity politics' as something practiced mainly by left-wing movements and not, say, by the Republican Party ... The Once and Future Liberal is a missed opportunity of the highest order, trolling disguised as erudition.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewDespite Ulrich’s emphasis on women’s voices and ideas, A House Full of Females centers its narrative in part on a man named Wilford Woodruff. An apostle of the church and one of Mormonism’s early converts, Woodruff played a significant role in Mormon history. But his most important quality, from Ulrich’s perspective, is that he kept a detailed diary ... In asking readers to enter Wilford and Phebe’s world, Ulrich assumes a certain amount of background knowledge. She takes for granted that her readers know something about the landmark events of early Mormonism ... A House Full of Females is sensitive to the difficulty and confusion that accompanied early plural marriage, with its implied loss of status for women. But the book also tells a more complicated tale about women’s on-the-ground experiences ... yet in the best ways, A House Full of Females remains a work of traditional 'women’s history,' a straightforward exploration of women’s lives and experiences on their own terms.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewFrank has been delivering some version of this message for the past two decades as a political essayist and a founding editor of The Baffler magazine. Listen, Liberal is the thoroughly entertaining if rather gloomy work of a man who feels that nobody has been paying attention ... Frank’s book is an unabashed polemic, not a studious examination of policy or polling trends. In Frank’s view, liberal policy wonks are part of the problem, members of a well-educated elite that massages its own technocratic vanities while utterly missing the big question of the day ... But [his] conclusion, too, may rest on a faulty analogy with the 1930s. Franklin Roosevelt did not suddenly decide on his own to enact Social Security or grant union rights. Those ideas came up from below, through decades of frustration and struggle and conflict.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewAs the historian Steve Fraser demonstrates in his wide-ranging new book, the idea of the 'limousine liberal' has a long and messy history all its own...Despite its title, however, Fraser’s book is not really about liberals and their supposed foibles. Instead, he seeks to describe how 'right-wing populists' have insulted, vilified, mocked and analyzed those liberals in both the present and the past.