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 PostTogether, 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.