RaveBook PostThe Amur River has made me think much more deeply about the specific power of writing about travel ... why stick with the time-honored method of travel through words? For this reason, I think: when you are in the hands of a writer as deft as Thubron, you’re not moving through a visual simulation. You’re experiencing the world through a mind, a mind rendering the fullness of perception through the expansive powers of prose ... Thubron’s mind has the advantage of a rich hoard of experience ... Thubron has always been a melancholic writer, but the reader senses that his approaching mortality, which echoes throughout these pages, has deepened his sensitivity to human frailty ... Though Thubron sometimes confesses to impatience with the people he meets along the way, more often he shows a deep sense of empathy. He immerses himself in the languages and cultures of those he visits, at pains to avoid the visitor’s easy judgments; he is attuned to the tensions beneath the surface of their lives ... Thubron is an author under no illusions; he knows what is coming for us all. But we should be grateful that he has not lost his faith in the power of great writing to bring us within a perceptive observer’s rich and multilayered experience of the world.
David E Sanger
PositiveThe Washington PostIn his new book, The Perfect Weapon, Sanger offers a panoramic view of the rapidly evolving world of cyber-conflict. He covers incidents from the covert U.S. cyber-campaign to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program (a story we know about largely because of Sanger’s diligent reporting) to Edward Snowden’s epic heist of National Security Agency data. And yes, there’s also plenty of background on Russia’s active measures during the 2016 campaign ... But there’s also a wealth of gripping material on stories that have probably been missed by the broader public ... It all adds up to a persuasive argument for the truth of the book’s title ... this is the main message that Sanger is trying to get across with his book: Our country is a big, fat, juicy cyber-target for our enemies. Yet we seem determined to avoid changing our collective ways. When will we finally wake up?
MixedThe Washington PostSnyder structures this wildly erratic book around a contrast between what he calls the \'politics of inevitability\' (represented by neoliberal optimists in the United States and the European Union who allegedly find it impossible to imagine alternatives to what already exists) and the \'politics of eternity\' practiced by certain authoritarians ... Snyder comes equipped with just the tools — an impressive knowledge of languages and a deep background in European history — that might help us make sense of his story. His description of the pro-Europe, pro-democratic Maidan Revolution in Kiev in 2014, which he witnessed first hand, is quite good. He also traces useful continuities between Kremlin disinformation campaigns and Trump’s shameless mendaciousness ... Other sections are less successful. Snyder attributes some of Putin’s most cynical acts to the Russian fascist theoretician Ivan Ilyin. I’m not quite convinced, though, that the Russian president really spends his spare time perusing philosophy — and he certainly didn’t need to read a book to come up with a plan for invading Ukraine ... I wish that he’d done a far more straightforward job of making the case.
MixedThe Washington PostThe first chapters of her book follow the careers of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in the 1920s and ’30s. Her account gains additional force from her own biography: As a little girl, she had to leave her native Czechoslovakia with her family after the Nazis invaded in 1939. (Her maternal grandmother, who was Jewish, was murdered by the Nazis in World War II.) The rest of the book, in which she melds her travels as secretary of state with ruminations about despots around the world, is decidedly weaker. There’s an obligatory feel to these accounts ... Almost in passing, she mentions that the Kim family regime in North Korea — she conducted talks in 2000 with Kim Jong Il, the father of the incumbent there — probably qualifies as the only truly fascist regime in the world today. I happen to agree with her on that. Unfortunately, she never really explains what she means by it ... she doesn’t add a great deal more to our understanding of what qualifies someone as a modern fascist or how fascism might have mutated to fit current conditions. And that is a pity, because it’s just the sort of clarifying discussion we desperately need.
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
PositiveThe Washington PostIn this respect, How Democracies Die comes at exactly the right moment ... Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, two of the most respected scholars in the field of democracy studies, offer just that. Their book starts by giving us a readable but thorough look at democratic breakdowns in societies around the world. They then compare those incidents with current developments in the United States — and arrive at some disturbing conclusions ... Today’s parties, Levitsky and Ziblatt write, 'represent not just different policy approaches but different communities, cultures, and values' ... Their studies of democratic collapse in other places around the world show that even well-established legislatures, courts and constitutions become vulnerable when leaders — particularly 'populist outsiders' — begin to violate accepted norms of political behavior ... The problems of American democracy, they note, don’t stop with our president. He is, they conclude, a particularly dangerous symptom of a much broader malaise.
Orhan Pamuk, Trans. by Maureen Freely
RaveThe New York Review of BooksFor all the density of its real-world detail Snow is really a book about a quest, and a miracle that grows out of it. Ka’s quest is not inspired by politics, and the mystery it engenders belongs to an entirely different category altogether … Where Pamuk really excels in this novel is in the deftness with which he allows these forces to tug at one another. Like Dostoevsky, the literary forebear whose spirit haunts this book most palpably, Pamuk appears to value politics, among other things, as a great opportunity to let his characters rant in all sorts of productive ways … As we find ourselves retracing Ka’s steps, in more or less reverse order, we realize that we are in a palindrome, a crystalline mirroring. The symmetry may be only half-hidden, but it is all the more singular for that. We may not know what axis of the snowflake we now find ourselves on.
RaveThe New RepublicIn her excellent new book on Russia’s transition from the faltering democracy of the 1990s to the Putinist present... All seven come from a well-educated, relatively prosperous milieu that gives them the skills and self-awareness to comment on their own experiences with a sense of clarity ...Gessen’s cast of characters tell a powerful story of their own, giving us an intimate look into the minds of a group crucial to understanding the country’s brief experience of democracy and of the authoritarian regime that follows ...the most powerful parts of Gessen’s book are moments of individual revelation ... Even though I often felt nauseated by Gessen’s dissections of the workings of Putinism, I finished the book with an unexpected sense of hope.