RaveNew RepublicThe great virtue of Rachel Greenwald Smith’s essay collection, On Compromise, is to probe the broader allure of compromise in political thought, artistic expression, and pop culture ... The myopic, aestheticized rationale for liberal compromise is where Smith’s critical outlook comes into play most powerfully. Her book is strongest when she plumbs the distressing ways in which the formalist pieties of neoliberalism prepare the ground for fascist aesthetic sympathies ... This key insight, together with many of the other incisive arguments Smith trains on our rapidly fragmenting political and aesthetic landscape, poses a central challenge in the battle for both the liberal soul and the prospects for our democracy ... Perhaps, as detractors on the left and right increasingly insist, the house of liberalism has grown too rickety, complacent, and unmoored from the crisis of today’s republic to meet that challenge. But as Smith makes clear, the stakes of that failure could not be higher.
PanThe New RepublicMatthews narrates his political coming of age in the clipped, rapid-fire style of his TV presence. And he presents many of his formative encounters with politics and journalism in concert with the newsreel-style convulsions that upended this country’s epic of national self-understanding ... Matthews’s flat-yet-confident pundit voice moves forcefully onto center stage, as the book becomes the sort of then-this-happened march through recent political history you’re apt to encounter on any cable news channel of your despairing choosing. There are, inevitably, some embarrassing disclosures along the way ... This is capital-h History as Chris Matthews lived it—but he evidently never quite grasped that the old saw about journalism being history’s first draft meant that one’s understanding of it should be revised and reworked in the fullness of time. No, the point of history, Matthews-style, as with any other exercise in punditry, is to be shown to be right, in real time—and then you can confidently clamor forward to the next segment ... Even the observations collected here that aren’t actually drawn from repurposed column content bear the telltale thumbprints of on-the-fly punditry ... Even Matthews’s appeals to history qua history are correspondingly punditized, and miniaturized for seeming televisual consumption ... It’s a classic Chris Matthews performance, rendered on the printed page—a blizzard of deeply clichéd, executive-sanctioned sentiment about everything and nothing ... To live through, and reflect on, history in any meaningful way is to wrestle with the tragic limits it imposes on the ambitions of the powerful, hubristic class of men and women who claim to know its foreordained course—what the historian John Lukacs called the interpretation of history as \'chastened thought.\' But that’s not something that Chris Matthews or his legions of cable imitators are about to blurt out on set. And that, in turn, leaves his long-suffering audience to marvel at the very many types of leaders who are, in fact, getting away with anything and everything—and to exclaim, yet again, in bitter wonderment, \'What a country.\'
PanThe New Republic... the rather unexceptional narrative of a lagging technological enclave choosing to close the digital divide under its own steam ... the saga of The Quiet Zone soon becomes a catch-all quest for parallel indicators of all manner of psychic and criminal distemper lurking beneath the surface calm of life ... What does all this rural gothic arcana have to do with the Quiet Zone and its slow-motion deterioration under the pressures of modernity? Very nearly nothing, but that doesn’t prevent Kurczy from delivering [a] creaky, cliché-ridden rationale ... Kurczy’s just getting warmed up as he scours the Pocahontas terrain for anything of remote narrative interest ... By the time Kurczy does return to the book’s ostensible theme, the clichés are coming fast and furious ... the real vice among writers professing to uncover the true character of our rural interior is dark-side porn.
PanThe New RepublicThe truths Müller expounds may well be self-evident, and they are worthy goals for Western democracies presently roiled by crises of legitimacy and longer-term policy drift—but Müller’s analysis rarely engages with the root causes of these crises. He proposes procedural fixes that are well-considered but leaves them largely to float in a conceptual and ideological vacuum. Populism is the villain of this book. But that may be largely because it misconstrues a tradition that could revitalize democracy ... There are of course real hazards in formulating broad-based responses to demagogic, bigoted strongman movements—but the notion that authoritarian populism has so deeply infected public discourse that fighting it with movement-style protest can play into its own sinister and divisive agendas seems a quasi-paranoid flourish not at all out of line with Trumpian and Bannonite rhetoric in its own right ... Müller’s line of argument distorts the actual legacies of populism, particularly of American populism ... It’s more than a little wearisome to continue insisting on this point amid the recent barrage of tracts that demonize populism as Democracy Rules does ... in Müller’s institutionalist scheme of analysis, unions and workers are another AWOL constituency in the vast phantom public ... Against the backdrop of today’s crises, an oversight on this scale seems astonishing.
MixedThe New Republic\"... [Benjamin] Franklin mostly figures in McHugh’s narrative as a genial progenitor of the gospel of success—which proved an altogether more inclusive literary tradition than Webster’s world-conquering linguistic nationalism ... And that, in turn, points up a key limitation of McHugh’s otherwise suggestive and imaginative survey. McHugh tries to argue throughout the book that each of the works she examines tended to reinforce the same process of cultural homogenization. Yet, while Franklin and Webster both wrote out of an impulse for self-improvement, they are not, at the end of the day, offering the same kind of advice ... It’s not that this estimation is wrong, per se—rather, it’s that it explains everything and nothing. Yes, national myth-making tends to obliterate difference in most historical settings—but tensions within such myths produce significant changes over time ... this is ultimately why Americanon, for all of its energetically reported detail, ultimately adds up to considerably less than its bestselling, culture-making parts ... the larger design of Americanon produces a singular flattening effect, in which one fabricated cultural myth is piled atop another, with no apparent resolution or egress on offer.
MixedThe New RepublicAs a diagnostic saga, the narrative of The Premonition makes for compelling reading...Lewis writes of the quest for an improved public health response to such devastating crises as an extended set piece in fearless and iconoclastic scientific inquiry, calling to mind the tense, high-stakes storyline of a Michael Crichton thriller or an episode of House ... None of this is to discredit the genuinely brave and heroic efforts of Dean, Hatchett, Mecher, and the other policy entrepreneurs in the bureaucratic morality play of The Premonition; science is by definition an experimental, provisional, trial-and-error endeavor, and it’s to be expected that the apostles of scientific inquiry will make mistakes and miscalculations, and correct subsequent plans and models accordingly. But it is to question whether the moral of Lewis’s science-triumphing-over-politics set piece is as pat and tidy as Lewis makes it seem ... In a book seeking to lay bare the government myopia that’s thwarted the effective adoption of pandemic prevention measures, it’s exceedingly strange that Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the culture hero of many liberal detractors of the Trumpian mishandling of the Covid crisis, merits but a single passing cameo appearance. Deborah Birx, the Trump administration’s decidedly more compromised—but still undeniably influential—White House coronavirus-response coordinator, doesn’t rate a mention at all. Even the signature villains of the hideously botched Trump Covid initiative barely put in an appearance, while Trump himself, with his surreal press conference diagnostics and crackpot racist outbursts about the pandemic’s origins, is a remote and muffled presence, the policy equivalent of the madwoman in the attic in a Victorian gothic romance ... It’s not hard to surmise the thinking behind this narrative choice. Without the messy and chaotic battle for power and influence both within the Trump White House and on the broader public health bureaucracy, The Premonition can deliver the same blandly reassuring moral that The Fifth Risk and Moneyball did: With a bold embrace of more innovative and data-driven fixes, the public health bureaucracy, like the civil service and the twenty-first-century model of baseball management, can play the starring role in an edifying parable of efficiency. Like those studies, The Premonition evokes a fundamentally frictionless world of nimbly-executed solutionism—a vision of a perennially improving civitas produced by just the right complement of innovative disruption, planning protocols, and data inputs ... To contend that yet another corps of strategically placed, data-savvy technocrats holds the key to our collective salvation is to disregard the bulk of modern American political history.
PositiveThe New Republic... nuanced and engaging ... a welcome addition to the vast body of historical interpretations of what the Gilded Age meant for the erratic quest to fulfill the American nation’s democratic promise. Against the notion that our political system was, under the combined pressures of industrialism, urbanization, racial suppression, farm and labor insurgencies, and nativist backlash, evolving into a giant rolling shakedown administered at the behest of this or that powerful and conspiratorial faction, The Age of Acrimony stresses the broader currents of change in American mass politics ... Grinspan excels at teasing out the deeply rooted (and long-enduring) backstories that propelled the landmark confrontations of Gilded Age politics ... Grinspan seeks to wrest a salubrious civic moral from his narrative of expert ascendance and broad participatory decline, but it comes off as something of a rushed afterthought that overtly clashes with much of the astute and arresting analysis that fills the body of The Age of Acrimony.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
PanThe BafflerAt bottom, What Happened is less a campaign postmortem than a wonk’s lament. The search for single-bullet explanations of the catastrophe of 2016 will long outlast Clinton’s book, and the assortment of takes, counterspins, and rebukes, continuing to multiply even as I type, will only prolong that likely futile quest. But the most revealing admissions in What Happened don’t concern the trench warfare of our money-drenched, tech-addled, message-tested presidential campaigns. No, the places where Clinton’s memoir serves as a robust and persuasive diagnosis of our political ills all concern the candidate’s own confessed, still unresolved disorientation at the specter of an angry, populist electorate ... Continuing to speculate on what can be done to fix the anger of these unhinged rural populists, Clinton briskly dismisses the notion of embracing a battery of redistributionist economic positions, in the Bernie Sanders vein ... once Clinton began looking into the direct redress of wealth and income inequality, she realized that it involved the actual appropriation of wealth and income—something that a good neoliberal wonk must always rule out on principle.
RaveThe Washington PostFranzen shores up his Zeitgeist-heavy narrative with the indispensable masonry of a carefully crafted plot, exuberant yet plausible satire and, most of all, closely observed character … Franzen narrates The Corrections with a subdued, assured and compassionate touch. The result is an energetic, brooding, open-hearted and funny novel that addresses refreshingly big questions of love and loyalty in America's rapidly fragmenting, meaning-challenged domestic sphere … What happens to the Lamberts is ultimately less compelling than the simple fact of them, as rendered in Franzen's patient, wise descriptions of their petty trials, their epic self-deceptions and their astonishing, resilient need of one another.
PositiveBookforum...[a] richly detailed, indispensable study ... One of the limitations of Isenberg’s study is its regional bias, which makes racial tensions among working-class Americans come across as a virtual southern monopoly ... Still, in exposing the tangled origins and richly variegated articulations of America’s signature civic faith of baiting and biologizing its poor population, Isenberg has done an inestimable service.