PositiveThe Washington Post... feels like multiple books captured in a single volume, yet none could quite survive without the others ... slim and quietly captivating ... Perhaps Griffin seizes on this ethic of care because she has not just read it until she understood — she has lived it as well. It appears in her visits to bookstores with her father and fabric stores with her mother; in her days listening to songs and conversation in a small family restaurant that she describes with such devotion that I wished I could have eaten there myself; in her time in the family’s urban garden, a space that, for the women around her, \'mirrored their own lovely softness amid the harsh concrete world they inhabited.\' These are the book’s most memorable passages, perhaps more so for their relative scarcity.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
PositiveThe Washington Post... slim, poignant ... Any one of us who have lost loved ones — even that euphemism feels deficient, for we have not lost anyone; we know too well what happened to them — can relate to Adichie’s anger and her compulsion to reshape it into guilt ... The loveliest writing in this reflection, however, is not about James Nwoye Adichie, but about the anguish and longing his death produces in those who suffer his absence most acutely.
RaveThe Washington Post... an engrossing and impossibly wide-ranging project—as idiosyncratic as it is systematic—written by an author confident that the things that interest him will interest his readers, too. And he’s right ... There are so many different people to watch and works to consider — readers can skip from George Kennan to George Orwell, from the Beats to the Beatles, from Richard Wright to Betty Friedan — and so much is changing all at once that everything competes for attention. If it feels that way reading it, how must the era have felt living it? ... Menand’s digressions hardly digress; they are essential to the story ... For all the detail he offers and detours he cannot resist, Menand is also good at pithily summing up movements and people ... lengthy — 857 pages does require some commitment from both reader and writer — yet I was sad to reach the end. Even Menand’s footnotes are delightful. It is a book that compels you to buy other ones and to scour the Internet for old essays that seem entirely relevant once again ... I wanted Menand to be more explicit, to tell me what it all meant. I wanted more interpretation, not less.
Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes
MixedThe Washington Post... a brisk and detailed account of the 2020 presidential race ... blunt, insidery talk is the lifeblood of Lucky ... a little deceptive. The 2020 race transpired against the backdrop of a deadly pandemic, widespread racial-justice protests and threats to American democracy emanating from the presidency itself. In Lucky, such context matters largely to the extent that it affects the candidates’ rhetoric and fundraising ... As a result, the moments of high drama in Lucky can feel small-bore ... Allen and Parnes overwrite. There are memorable and telling insider moments in Lucky, revealing vital negotiations or highlighting simple truths that parties and campaigns would rather obfuscate ... Unfortunately, Allen and Parnes clutter their story with italicized descriptions of what various players are really thinking at particular moments ... these asides are distracting and often unnecessary ... Note to political reporters and nonfiction authors: Italics are not a get-out-of-quote free card ... Lucky provides useful detail to understand Biden’s victory, even if the framing is not particularly novel ... Biden was more than lucky. And for political reporters as for political candidates, spending too much time on optics is just not a good look.
RaveThe Washington Post... riveting and pessimistic ... Kolbert reveals the Anthropocene at its most absurd ... expertly mixes travelogue, science reporting and explanatory journalism, all with the authority of a writer confident enough to acknowledge ambiguity ... Reading Under a White Sky can be inspiring ... Sure, reading Under a White Sky, one could wonder if Kolbert is implicitly bemoaning, say, the wheel, or anything emerging from the basic human impulse to control and shape our natural environment. But this is more than techno-fatalism or the fear of unintended consequences. Kolbert is bemoaning humanity itself, fearing that we can’t be trusted with the abilities we develop.
Charles M Blow
MixedThe Washington PostBlow describes his idea as \'big\' and \'audacious\' and \'grand\' and \'revolutionary\' and many additional adjectives making clear his pride and confidence. Yet this is not a fully developed proposal — more like a rough thought experiment stretched into book form. He says the reverse migration should be intentional and strategic, but the strategy is only partially laid out, reflecting a simplified interpretation of history, one in which counterfactuals are taken as given and sheer numbers are assumed to overpower politics, power and entrenched prejudice ... As intriguing as the proposal itself is why Blow feels compelled to make it. He describes some of the recent protests surrounding racial justice as mere \'cabin fever racial consciousness\' flowing from exhaustion with the pandemic, a performative activism that will not yield lasting changes. He similarly dismisses much of contemporary Black intellectual life, lamenting that too many African American thinkers deliver \'beautiful meditations\' and \'blistering orations\' that accomplish little beyond ingratiating them to self-flagellating White audiences eager to be reminded how irredeemable they are ... I wish Blow had specified his contemporary disagreements, because it would have forced him to grapple with them more forcefully in a moment when battles over identity and racial redress are proliferating, whether on the streets, on social media or in publishing houses ... reminds that America’s mobility has not always meant progress, that alongside the allure of movement are the tears and disappointments that keep us moving, always seeking a new place where we can and must belong.
PositiveThe Washington PostWinchester is good at...adding dashes of drama, narrative, indignation and, above all, connection to disparate historical accounts. He does the same with the brutal dispossession of native populations in North America ... Given the scope of his project, portions of Land are inevitably fleeting—quick visits to multiple regions and countries and conflicts, and a tendency to reduce everything to a dispute over the soil rather than, say, the soul ... Yet there is soul in this book ... Just beneath the surface of Land is a tension between the benevolent stewardship of land for the enjoyment of all...and the compulsion to possess and enclose, to clear and exclude ... a stirring call for communal imperatives, even if its history recounts the constant allure of private ownership.
MixedThe Washington PostStrzok delivers a compelling tale, though at times a frustrating one, layered with excessive restraint and insufficient self-awareness. The author says he has become more dogmatic regarding right and wrong as he has grown older. Yet the story he tells, and his own role in it, and that of the institution he long served, are trapped in shades of gray ... Strzok is as critical of Trump as he is zealous in defense of the FBI, sometimes to the point of contradiction. He is indignant that anyone would question the bureau’s motives for opening particular investigations, even while recalling how colleagues expressed their hope that he could get the goods on Clinton ... Strzok refuses to discuss the particulars of the affair [with Lisa Page] in Compromised, except to admit that he is \'ashamed\' ... It’s an understandable decision—except you can’t sidestep the context in which those texts were sent while also insisting that their true meaning and intent were wildly misinterpreted by the conservative media.
PanThe Washington Post[A] revolting, contradictory, redundant and transparently faux-penitent memoir ... While he does proffer the eye-popping details and anecdotes required in any Trump tell-all, Cohen reveals little about Trump that is not already widely understood. Disloyal is an exercise in affirmation, not revelation ... Cohen revels in how much they share in common, and still channels The Art of the Deal ... The book is getting attention for its criticisms of the president. But Disloyal doubles as Cohen’s unwitting homage to the ways of Donald Trump ... The whole thing is written as a lament — but it’s really a lament that it’s over, a lament that he got caught.
MixedThe Washington Post... uneven yet timely ... Guerrero spends much of her book plumbing Miller’s early years for the origins of his animus against immigrants, with intriguing but inconclusive results. She makes far clearer how right-wing and nationalistic media personalities provided Miller the platform and tactics to hone his political vision — and theirs — and continued shaping his views during his time as a Senate aide and as a Trump adviser ... Guerrero drops tantalizing suggestions about Miller’s motivations.
MixedThe Washington PostSpecific sources usually go unnamed, and Toobin also relies on reporting and analysis by The Washington Post, the New York Times, Lawfare and others. Put together, this all gives the book an authoritative, omniscient-narrator quality, particularly when Toobin goes inside the deliberations of Mueller and his team ... So much has already been written on this period that stretches of Toobin’s book feel like a smart recap of the past four years, punctuated by insider details about the investigations and Toobin’s judgments on the lawyering skills and ethics of various players.
Mary L. Trump
PositiveThe Washington PostToo Much and Never Enough is a deftly written account of cross-generational trauma, but it is also suffused by an almost desperate sadness—sadness in the stories it tells and sadness in the telling, too. Mary Trump brings to this account the insider perspective of a family member, the observational and analytical abilities of a clinical psychologist and the writing talent of a former graduate student in comparative literature. But she also brings the grudges of estrangement ... Mary Trump does offer some embarrassing, even silly, stories about growing up Trump ... More memorable than any such details are this book’s insights and declarations ... She provides little specific evidence or context for [assertions of mental health problems]—a habit that recurs throughout the book, as the author makes definitive pronouncements about her uncle’s state of mind ... Mary Trump’s most convincing moments are those when she draws out behavioral parallels between [her grandfather] Fred and Donald.
PositiveThe Washington Post... absorbing ... here is where Shimer’s account is particularly newsworthy. Through an impressive array of on-the-record interviews with former high-level Obama officials, Shimer describes an administration that initially missed Russia’s threat to the integrity of the U.S. election and that, upon grasping the risks, blinked.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe tensions between patience and urgency, between fear and resolve, between the promise of someday and the demands of right now, are at the heart of Our Time Is Now. Abrams covers plenty of territory — identity politics, voting rights, and the frustrations and revelations of her gubernatorial race — but above all, she writes about the grinding work required to make real the compact of democratic participation ... more than just another campaign book. Despite the immediacy of her title, Abrams also takes the long view ... These are not the priorities of someone fixated on her short-term political prospects, no matter how brightly such ambitions may burn.
RaveThe Washington PostIt echoes analyses and arguments from other Trump books that probe more deeply into particular arenas, yet it is not redundant; this book does not repeat as much as it distills. The result is almost the Platonic ideal of the anti-Trump Trump book, as though manufactured in a lab to affirm every suspicion, stoke every fear and answer every question by those readers desperately seeking a \'recovery from Trumpism,\' as Gessen writes. The book’s implied \'we,\' though sometimes encompassing the nation in full, is usually limited to the horrified. And those who are horrified by Trump will find that Surviving Autocracy is a time capsule packed with all their anxieties, and all their certainties, too. It offers discomfort and reassurance at once ... One of Gessen’s strengths is her ability to capture what daily life feels and sounds like in the Trump era, and how abnormality remains so even when it is pervasive ... If this book offers no other imperative, it is to remember that the choice always remains.
PanThe Washington PostDonald Trump Jr.’s best-selling new book, Triggered, fails as memoir and as polemic: Its analysis is facile, its hypocrisy relentless, its self-awareness marginal. (The writing is wretched, even by the standards of political vanity projects.) But the point of Triggered is not autobiographical, literary or analytic, and it should not be read or evaluated on such grounds. Rather, the book is most useful as a preview of a possible Donald Trump Jr. 2024 presidential campaign ... The latest book is also littered with familiar Trump put-downs, talking points, omissions and pats on the back ... Don Jr. also displays his father’s eagerness to stoke culture wars and deploy wedge issues ... A fixation on masculinity is at the core of Don Jr.’s efforts to appeal to his father’s base ... There’s plenty of meat in Triggered, and all of it is red.
Ibram X. Kendi
MixedThe Washington Post... engrossing and relentless ... To his enormous credit, Kendi does not spare himself, admitting that before his book research, he unwittingly harbored prejudice ... The greatest service Kendi and provide[s] is the ruthless prosecution of American ideas about race for their tensions, contradictions and unintended consequences. And yet I have greater difficulty embracing the notion that, as Kendi argues, progress on race is inevitably stalked by the advance of racism and that, on an individual level, falling short in specific instances somehow taints the whole of a person ... The old one-drop rule for determining race was based on prejudice and pseudoscience. A one-drop rule for determining racism seems only slightly less unfair, no matter how well-intentioned.
PanThe Washington PostHowever accurate and sobering such characterizations may be, they all belong in a folder labeled Stuff We Already Know. Unfortunately, much of A Warning reads like a longer version of the op-ed, purposely vague and avoiding big revelations in order to preserve the author’s anonymity. The writer admits as much ... The writer’s decision is not necessarily cowardly, but worse, it is self-defeating. Anonymity is often granted to acquire additional information, but in this book, it excuses giving less. A Warning tells us plenty about what Anonymous thinks, not enough about what Anonymous knows. And without learning more about the writer, it’s tough to know what to make of either ... In the absence of facts, readers are barraged by similes ... There are moments of detail and revelation, but they usually affirm points long understood about the president ... This is the fate of so many of the Chaos Chronicles — the insider books that tell us what it’s really, truly like in the Trump administration. Their explosive anecdotes about the president manage to be shocking and alarming yet, by this point in the Trump presidency, almost entirely unsurprising ... What frustrates about reading A Warning is that its author is not a journalist or a former official, but someone still working in the administration at a high level and ostensibly in position to not just chronicle conditions but to affect them. Instead, the book offers an endless encore of senior officials expressing concern to one another ... It’s like \'Profiles in Thinking About Courage\' ... It is not clear why, if Anonymous has concluded that the quiet resistance is powerless, the author remains in the administration ... We don’t need a secret administration insider to tell us to pass the torch of liberty; we need that person to detail whether and how the torch is being doused ... parlor game? Maybe. But without a clearer sense of who Anonymous is and what this person has seen, done and is still doing, A Warning does not cut through the noise. It just creates more of it.
Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
RaveThe Washington Post... captivating ... This is a book about journalism, yet it reveals the power and limits of a cultural transformation too often captured in slogans and hashtags ... It is the quest for that proof — and overcoming the obstacles that Weinstein, his attorneys, corporate culture and the legal system threw in their way — that makes She Said an instant classic of investigative journalism. The book is packed with reluctant sources, emotional interviews, clandestine meetings, impatient editors, secret documents, late-night door knocks, toady lawyers and showdowns with Weinstein himself. The cumulative effect is almost cinematic, a sort of All the President’s Men for the Me Too era, except the men are women, and they don’t protect the boss, they take him down ... The reporting on Ford is intimate, but it feels more atmospheric compared with the reporters’ fast-paced chronicle of the Weinstein investigation, and the latter portions of the book flag ... a memorable book.
Thomas Chatterton Williams
MixedThe Washington Post... thoughtful yet frustrating ... When he tells his own story, Williams can be an elegant and sharp-eyed writer; when he moves beyond it, he can lapse into an excess of rhetorical questions and ponderous pondering ... In a publishing environment where analyses of race tend to call out white fragilities and catalogue historical injustices, Self-Portrait in Black and White is a counterintuitive, courageous addition. But Williams does not simply want to share his journey; he insists that everyone take the same trip ... Williams is confident that \'people of good will,\' anyone \'properly motivated and educated,\' can slip the bonds of identity. He concludes this despite constantly noting the uniqueness of his life, which has made his discernment more possible, his choices less constrained, his experience of racial animosity less overt; and he does so seemingly unaware that his plea for individual agency can also involve the agency to accept or embrace group identities, no matter how manufactured or imposed ... his back-and-forth negotiation is indeed endless, making this slim book read longer than its page count ... The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the overexamined life is not always worth reading ... Williams appears to reprimand anyone who recognizes race’s enduring role in American life ... his new ideas can be vague and contradictory when they transcend the self of this self-portrait.
PositiveThe Washington Post... lengthy, indispensable ... Alberta marries insight on Republican politics with room-where-it-happens reporting to show how easily a major party surrenders ideology to the temptations of power and revenge ... Alberta deftly peels away the veneers ... Alberta offers dishy details on how the two lawmakers survived multiple attempts to oust them and how they made their peace with Trump’s rise ... Alberta seems torn over how to explain [Trump]. He writes early on that Trump’s underlying values and motives don’t matter, but warns later against misunderstanding the president’s \'bedrock beliefs\' on immigration and trade ... not a conventional Trump-era book. It is less about the daily mayhem in the White House than about the unprecedented capitulation of a political party. This book will endure for helping us understand not what is happening but why it happened.
Kristin L. Hoganson
MixedThe Washington Post... confronts persistent views of the insular and benign Midwest and reinterpreting the heart of the American nation. Yet Hoganson’s book shows that local, national and global histories are more malleable and permeable than hard-and-fast categorizing allows, and that identity-based history does not necessarily undermine the national story. Rather, it keeps our history honest, free of simple nostalgias ... If [Hoganson] had continued her history of the Midwest past the early 20th century, she could have told the ongoing stories of dispossession and displacement for multiple peoples, classes and races.
Robert S. Mueller
MixedThe Washington PostToo many footnotes and distracting redactions. The writing is often flat, and the first half of the book drags, covering plenty of terrain that has been described elsewhere. The story shifts abruptly between riveting insider tales and dense legalisms. Its protagonist doesn’t really come alive until halfway through ... Yet as an authoritative account, the Mueller report is the best book by far on the workings of the Trump presidency. It was delivered to the attorney general but is also written for history ... Mueller doesn’t just have receipts — he seems to know what almost everyone wanted to buy ... The mix of incompetence, disorganization and self-interest evident here evokes Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, which depicts a Trump inner circle both unprepared and uninterested in actually governing ... The Mueller report is not beautifully written. These are lawyers, not stylists, and the book’s power rests not in its prose but in its overwhelming authority. Yet even that authority has limits, as does the document’s scope ... it is tempting to view it as the definitive insider account of the Trump presidency, as most tell-alls purport to be. But it is not.
RaveThe Washington PostMichael Lewis’s, The Fifth Risk looks like a book — it has hard covers, chapters, acknowledgments and the rest — but it reads like a love letter. It is a love letter to underappreciated people and old-fashioned notions, and to underappreciated people holding fast to old-fashioned notions. With Trump-era politics turning Washington into Crazytown, Lewis has written a countercultural, almost subversive, book: one that praises the intellectual curiosity, dedication, foresight and sense of mission he finds among America’s federal workers ... The Fifth Risk challenges us to expect and appreciate those qualities at the highest levels of our federal workforce. Better yet, to demand them.
PositiveThe Washington PostTraister’s Good and Mad is an urgent, enlightening book that is well timed for this moment even as they transcend it, the kind of accounts often reviewed and discussed by women but that should certainly be read by men. Traister...focuses on the political history of female anger. She spans the suffrage movement to the 2016 election to, of course, the #MeToo wrath now upending the casting couch, the anchor chair, the editor’s desk and possibly even the highest bench in the land ... Anger is a catalytic force for activism and organizing, they argue, a demand for accountability, a statement of rights and assertion of worth. It is also a vital form of communication, Traister explains, a way for women to find one another and realize that their frustrations are shared.
RaveThe Washington Post\"Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her [is] urgent, enlightening... well timed for this moment even as [it transcends] it, the kind of [account] often reviewed and discussed by women but that should certainly be read by men ... With Rage Becomes Her, Chemaly offers a relentless catalogue of the sources of female anger and the efforts to repress it.\
Salena Zito, Brad Todd
PositiveThe Washington PostJournalist Salena Zito and...Brad Todd have co-authored a new book that provides a taxonomy of 2016 Trump supporters, one that claims to upend the stereotypical narratives of the mainstream press. \'We spent time in diners, watering holes, bed-and-breakfasts, and coffee shops, finding Trump voters where they live and work,\' they write. Where others saw an irate, dispossessed, racist, uneducated mass eager to burn it all down, Zito and Todd travel through Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, deploying \'smart empirical research with on-the-scene, shoe-leather reporting\' in search of the true Trumpistas, those \'hidden in plain sight.\'\
Deborah Fallows and James Fallows
MixedThe Washington PostThe agents of recovery grow familiar the longer one lingers in Our Towns: young, creative types who move to the area from bigger cities or return to launch start-ups; local officials and business leaders striking public-private partnerships (the authors adore public-private partnerships); and an overarching \'local patriotism\' ... But there is a boosterish vibe running through this book that mars its analytic efforts. It may be the confirmation bias that results when you purposely seek out towns with great turnaround stories that can form a broader national narrative, or simply the perils of interviewing so many people who get paid to promote their cities.
PositiveThe Washington PostJon Meacham’s The Soul of America, though it intends to uplift, nonetheless offers a necessary and sobering corrective. America’s past is \'more often tragic\' than otherwise, the historian writes, \'full of broken hearts and broken promises, disappointed hopes and dreams delayed.\' In times of fear, our leaders \'can be as often disappointing as they are heroic.\' And if the soul of America is found in those attempts to expand the space for more people to live freely and pursue happiness, Meacham also points to a \'universal American inconsistency\' — even as we uphold life and liberty for some, we hold back others deemed unworthy ... Such historical awareness can comfort, especially if you believe, as Meacham does, that every generation considers itself under siege and that, with the right leadership, Americans usually find a way forward rather than back.
James B Comey
MixedThe Washington Post\"A Higher Loyalty is the brand extension of James Comey: the upright citizen turned philosopher, the lawman as thought leader ... This is a real memoir, with recollections and dilemmas building methodically, sometimes dramatically, toward his ethical leadership ideals. But even as chapters fly by without a mention of the current president, Trump hovers ... But when the stakes rise, self-examination diminishes. On his decision to publicly denounce Clinton’s handling of classified information in her private emails in July 2016, Comey’s misgivings are cosmetic ... For all his contempt for Trump — he decries \'the forest fire that is the Trump presidency\' — Comey concludes that the president’s behavior, while disturbing and dangerous, \'may fall short of being illegal.\'”
PositiveThe Washington Post...David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, sees a presidency bent not on the ideological deconstruction of the state but on its wreckage and exploitation — a system he calls Trumpocracy ... These initial assessments of the Trump presidency focus not just on the man in the White House but on his enablers within the GOP ... The president, Frum writes, left a moral void where American conservatism used to be ... So what are we living under? Trump’s rhetoric is populist and nativist, his urges autocratic, his policies plutocratic, his mandate democratic. He contains multitudes. 'Trumpocracy' fits.
PositiveThe Washington PostWolff’s prose is lively and entertaining — Fire and Fury is at times a riveting read — but the author has something of a mixed reputation as a faithful chronicler of reality ... Some of the juiciest tidbits in Fire and Fury are also among the pettiest, with Wolff listing pejoratives that various associates and staffers have supposedly leveled toward the president (not to his face, of course) ... But more than the insults and trolling — and frankly, what is Trumpier than a bunch of demeaning nicknames? — the most damning thing this book reveals is the extent to which the Trump team, and the president himself, were simply unprepared to govern.
Ed. by Bandy X. Lee and Robert Jay Lifton
PositiveThe Washington PostThe Dangerous Case of Donald Trump features more than two dozen essays breaking down the president’s perceived traits, which the contributors find consistent with symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, sociopathy and other maladies ...argue that Trump’s behavior — his political statements and actions as well as his interviews, books and social-media activity — suggest more ominous possibilities ...writers emphasize that they are not, technically, diagnosing the president ... The stand these psychiatrists are taking takes courage, and their conclusions are compelling. But it’s hard to read The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump as simply the dispassionate insights of well-trained experts.
Jared Yates Sexton
MixedThe Washington PostSexton’s preoccupation with his alcohol consumption is one of the recurring oddities in The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore, an impressionistic and often disturbing account of the 2016 presidential race ... Even if marred at times by Sexton’s uninspired political analysis and unceasing affirmation of his working-class credentials, this book reveals the incremental nature of public displays of hatred ... With some books, I care most what the writer thinks, and with others, what the writer knows. The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore falls in the latter category. Sexton’s dispatches are bracing; his after-the-fact analysis less so ... published quickly for a book on the 2016 campaign, though not so quickly as to excuse its typos and cliches...Worse yet, Sexton, who teaches creative writing, delivers markedly uncreative prose, in which waters are always muddied, coffers are always lined, dealings are always shady, breath is always bated, memory lanes are always strolled and forests are always missed among trees.
MixedThe Washington PostIt reads like it was written for her colleagues on the trail, full of insidery reminiscences, professional self-doubt, last-second flights, lousy hotels and gossip about which NBC News embed was making out in a garage with which CNN staffer. Yet what elevates Unbelievable beyond one more pedestrian campaign memoir is Tur’s skill at capturing the constant indignities of campaign reporting while female, including the worst indignity of all: enduring the fixation of Trump himself ... Tur’s imagery is occasionally overdone but she has a knack for breaking down characters and moments ... Tur is memorable on the contrivances and idiosyncrasies of television journalism ... Deep into the book, Tur recalls the advice of a longtime television journalist, who managed to remain professional on air no matter how angry or tired or sick he felt. 'No one cares,' he told her. 'The news is not about you.' Those words stayed with her, she writes. 'I can hear him in my head now, prodding me.' I hope she keeps listening.
RaveThe Washington Post\"Together, these introspections are the inside story of a writer at work, with all the fears, insecurities, influences, insights and blind spots that the craft demands. There are two books here, really. Coates’s Atlantic essays betray a growing disillusionment with America and with the possibilities of the Obama presidency; his more personal digressions show how the age of the first black president propelled Coates’s career to unexpected heights, making him one of the most sought-after and overanalyzed interpreters of the era — the kind of fame, Coates realizes, that brings a severe risk of believing your own hype. ... I would have continued reading Coates during a Hillary Clinton administration, hoping in particular that he’d finally write the great Civil War history already scattered throughout his work. Yet reading him now feels more urgent, with the bar set higher. Early in this book, Coates writes that having the Obamas in the White House \'opened a market\' for him. Trump opens one, too.\
PositiveThe Washington PostWhatever agenda Trump is pushing at any given moment, however, Klein argues convincingly that it is entirely self-serving — because 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is but the latest set for the Trump show ... Klein’s prose feels overwritten at times; actions are not just unjust or corrupt, for instance, but 'defiantly' unjust or 'manifestly' corrupt. The hyperbole is unnecessary, and she is more persuasive when she simply outlines what the president does or proposes ... Klein understands that liberals can be their own worst enemies — she regards the Obama years as a massive missed opportunity and worries that the left is too inclined to compete rather than collaborate, and shame rather than sympathize — but she still feels that the time to strike alliances may never be more propitious, paradoxically because conditions are so grim.
MixedThe Washington PostRising Star is exhaustive, but only occasionally exhausting. Garrow zooms his lens out far, for instance when he recounts the evisceration of Chicago’s steel industry in the early 1980s, providing useful context for Obama’s subsequent work. And he goes deliciously small-bore, too, delving into the culture of the Illinois statehouse, where poker was intense and infidelity was rampant ... Rising Star concludes with Obama announcing his presidential campaign, and Garrow speeds through his presidency in a clunky and tacky epilogue, in which he recaps the growing media disenchantment with Obama and goes out of his way to cite unfavorable reviews of earlier biographies.
RaveThe Washington PostHistorian Timothy Snyder does not offer a corrective to the pessimism of this genre — he is a scholar of the Holocaust, after all — but begins to illuminate a path forward from it. On Tyranny is a slim book that fits alongside your pocket Constitution and feels only slightly less vital. Steeped in the history of interwar Germany and the horrors that followed, Snyder still writes with bracing immediacy, providing 20 plain and mostly actionable lessons on preventing, or at least forestalling, the repression of lives and minds ... Snyder points to clear and recognizable actions that a leader or a party can take to suffocate freedom — such as exploiting terrorist attacks to curtail individual liberties or enabling the rise of pro-government paramilitary forces — but he is especially attuned to the abuses of language ... easily the most compelling volume among the early resistance literature emerging in response to Trump.
Michael Eric Dyson
MixedThe Washington Post...thoughtful yet angry, mingling insight, righteousness and harshness ... there is little comradeship in these pages, and if there is love, it is of the toughest kind imaginable. Dyson makes clear that he regards much of white America as a pernicious force ... Still, he asserts that his problem is less with white individuals than with whiteness itself — with the political, economic and social advantages the status confers ... At times, though, there seems to be a built-in irrefutability to Dyson’s case. Any effort by white people to disassociate themselves from charges of privilege, to bypass or mitigate guilt, is dismissed as just another case of “innocent whiteness” — of reckless, blind denial...Any argument against Dyson is then, by definition, confirmation of his point. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong. But it does little to invite dialogue ... Yet Dyson is also pessimistic about the chances for racial understanding in America and, in this book at least, he doesn’t show enormous capacity for it himself.
PanThe Washington Post[Obama] would be hard pressed to produce a more congratulatory appraisal than the one provided for him by journalist Jonathan Chait ... at times, the book feels less like [an] assessment of Obama than [an] excoriation of the supporters who feel let down after all that hope delivered less change than they expected ... If this sounds like the conclusion of a writer who made up his mind early about Obama and then spent years defending that position, that’s because it is ... It is a rather remarkable admission for a journalist to make, and I’m not sure Chait grasps its implications. Audacity is confirmation bias in book form.
PositiveThe Washington Post...showcases Lilla’s gift for sketching out such long histories — and historical mythologies — with a few artful brushstrokes, covering centuries of thought and politics in a few pages. (His chapter titled 'From Luther to Walmart,' channeling academics such as Alasdair MacIntyre and Brad Gregory to describe the post-Reformation descent into today’s rapacious capitalism, is a minor classic all on its own.) So the book’s concluding chapter is jarring in a good way; after 100-plus pages plumbing essays and letters, Lilla places us in France on Jan. 7, 2015, — another 9/11, of a sort ... wade[s] deep into passionate thought, sometimes admiringly, usually judgmentally. Lilla draws a line between real thinkers and pretenders.
Arlie Russell Hochschild
PanThe Washington PostIn this case Hochschild arrives with so many preconceived ideas that they undercut the insight she claims to desire ... Hochschild interrupts their stories to place everything in a formulaic big-picture context, a capitalized and italicized theory of the right. The author, we learn, hopes to scale the Empathy Wall and learn the Deep Story that can resolve the Great Paradox through a Keyhole Issue. These contrivances guide, and ruin, this book.
Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
PositiveThe Washington PostEven for those of us who imagine ourselves experts, Armstrong scatters delicious details throughout her book ... To me, the notion of a Seinfeldia dimension is a bit forced, a little yada yada nada. But in describing the making and writing of this singular show, Armstrong is queen of the castle. Her stories about Seinfeld are real — and they’re spectacular.
MixedThe Washington Post[The Fractured Republic is] a dense work of political philosophy that can be frustratingly vague and hard to get through. Yet, get through it we should. Without mentioning Trump or the 2016 race, Levin illuminates this moment in two essential ways. He explains the illusory appeal of nostalgia-driven politics in the United States, the kind that Trump stokes in coarse, simplistic terms. More important, he offers a path forward for the American right after this campaign ... Levin understands the allure of nostalgia; indeed, he believes that almost all contemporary politics is based on it...the nostalgia of the traditional political class is also pernicious and 'blinding,' Levin argues, because it keeps us from grappling with the real problems assaulting us in the age of diffusion, problems that a candidate like Trump eagerly exploits ... This is not simply an effort to strengthen federalism and the prerogatives of states vs. Washington, though Levin is a fan of that, too. He is most concerned with the thicket of institutions in the middle — families, schools, religious organizations, all the things usually lumped together as civil society ... Levin’s recommendations are aggressively vague, and where they get specific they seldom surprise.
MixedThe Washington Post[Isenberg] has authored a gritty and sprawling assault on this aspect of American mythmaking ... Isenberg looks upon old American traditions and scoffs, reinterpreting history through the prism of class divisions among the country’s white population, one more caste system in the land of the free ... Throughout this book, references to race are fleeting and awkward, appearing in parentheticals or occasional asides. At a time when so much of the national debate over inequality centers on racial divides, Isenberg maintains that 'class has its own singular and powerful dynamic, apart from its intersection with race.' Still, it’s hard to skirt over race when dissecting class in America. At times, the author justifies her choice by implying a sort of equivalence of hardship ... In an echo of arguments by Thomas Frank and others, Isenberg worries that today we once again are seeing 'a large unbalanced electorate that is regularly convinced to vote against its collective self-interest.'
MixedThe Washington PostWhen the left party in a system severs its bonds to working people — when it dedicates itself to the concerns of a particular slice of high-achieving affluent people — issues of work and income inequality will inevitably fade from its list of concerns,' Frank concludes ... Frank acknowledges the power of intransigent congressional Republicans, but insists Obama could have better used the executive branch to 'do big and consequential things about inequality' ... The critique that Frank offer[s] is somewhat self-fulfilling. If you dare suggest that the Democratic Party must adapt to a changing global economy, or that the power of the presidency has been curtailed regardless of who inhabits the White House, you become part of the very mind-set the author vilif[ies].
PositiveThe Washington Post...artful and merciless...I wish Zeisler had tried harder to reconcile feminism and capitalism. If any cause is to transcend pure activism, it must find occasions to harness the profit motive, not just denounce it. This rapprochement may not be impossible. In her concluding pages, Zeisler argues that 'feminism is not fun. It’s not supposed to be fun. It’s complex and hard.' But with this challenging book, she’s proved that it can be complex and hard and fun, too.
PositiveThe Washington Post...a deeper dive into an early era of American prejudice, and one that examines the treatment of Native Americans as well as black slaves...[offers] a grim vision of America and of human nature, but one consistent with an era when the prison warden has supplanted the slave master, and when Black Lives Matter is the latest incarnation of a civil rights movement that has no reason to stop moving.
RaveThe Washington Post...a fascinating exploration of the major businesses and families that have manufactured firearms — and manufactured the seductiveness of firearms — in this country over the past 150 years ... The most memorable portions of The Gunning of America feature advertisements aimed at making firearms appealing to all audiences.
RaveThe Washington PostEvicted is an extraordinary feat of reporting and ethnography. Desmond has made it impossible to ever again consider poverty in America without tackling the central role of housing — and without grappling with Evicted.
MixedThe Washington PostReading this book as a critic is hard; reading it as a parent is devastating. I imagine snippets of my own young children in Dylan Klebold, shades of my parenting in Sue and Tom. I suspect that many families will find their own parallels. This book’s insights are painful and necessary, and its contradictions inevitable.
Michael Eric Dyson
MixedThe Washington Post...an enlightening work but a perplexing one, too, in which Dyson’s incisive criticisms are clouded by the author’s need to make nice with his subject and emphasize his proximity to power. The Black Presidency spends much time distinguishing prophetic and political voices in America’s racial debates, but its author cannot decide which tradition to embrace.
PositiveThe Washington PostExit Right is a flawed book, but it is flawed in the particular way that only great books can be. It fails to fully answer the impossibly ambitious questions it lays out, but its insights are so absorbing that it doesn’t matter. Its stories only partially fit Oppenheimer’s underlying argument, but the prose is so perfect you barely realize it. And just when you think you understand what propels and paralyzes one of his characters, the author moves to another. This book proves so satisfying precisely because it leaves you wanting much more.
Ed. Meredith Maran
PositiveThe Washington PostWe live in a moment of incessant self-disclosure, of oversharing as art, of personal essays as a path to fleeting fame — a cycle, as Daum puts it, 'of lazy writers producing material for lazy editors to sell to lazy readers.' So maybe we should be grateful for memoirists, more carefully and deliberately undressing their lives for our benefit. It’s not an affair, but it can still feel pretty intimate.
PositiveThe Washington PostFor each step, Konnikova begins with a story of a real-life con, detours into psychological and behavioral studies that show how people act in these settings, and then concludes with the scam’s outcome. That formula gets a bit tiresome over 300-plus pages, but fortunately, the cons are usually entertaining and the studies revealing.