MixedThe NationBen-Ghiat’s story...is at its heart a moral drama. The crucial factors at play are not social and political conditions but rather unscrupulous ambition and greed, on the one hand, and the determination (or the lack thereof) to resist it, on the other. This point of view is a provocative one. Unfortunately, like many in the alarm-bells camp, Ben-Ghiat tends to treat it as self-evidently true, and she therefore devotes far more attention to the strongmen’s own actions than to the factors that allowed them to rise and determined whether or not they succeeded. The problem, as her own book reveals, is that authoritarians do not simply prevail through violence: They seduce, they appeal, they exert charisma. And to understand why the seduction works, we cannot look at the strongmen alone; we also need to consider the people who fall under their spell ... [a] sprightly written, colorful book ... At times, the comparisons become distinctly forced ... Ben-Ghiat also gives little justification for choosing her strongmen almost entirely from the political right ... Ben-Ghiat devotes very little attention to ideology ... This reader, at least, wanted more, given the vast differences among the countries she covers ... Explaining why the playbook succeeded in some places and failed in others is a matter of more than merely pointing to the greater or lesser moral and institutional strength of resistance ... The playbook only takes the would-be strongman so far, and it only takes the historian so far in the quest to understand them and their significance.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksSamuels sets this...within a suspenseful, entertaining narrative that provides vivid portraits of its two subjects ... Samuels is hardly the first scholar to tell the story of the duchess’s betrayal ... But Samuels has stripped away the pious propaganda, uncovered many new details, and told the story in a gripping fashion that also brings out its absurdities and moments of dark comedy (the duchess and Deutz were both bumbling and incompetent conspirators). Samuels has also shifted the focus from the duchess to Deutz and made an ambitious argument.
MixedThe New York Review of BooksRosenblatt has written one of those rare academic books that, for all its brilliance, needed to be longer. For someone seeking to reevaluate Britain’s place in the history of liberalism, she devotes little sustained attention to British thought and politics. Locke, one of the prime targets of her revisionism, gets just three pages of close analysis. The epilogue, at only thirteen pages, cannot be more than suggestive. At times, Rosenblatt’s argument becomes so compressed that she fails to distinguish adequately between the history of the word \'liberal\' and the ideas we now associate with it. The two are, after all, separable ... Yet at the same time readers will come away with the realization that the liberal ideal has a much richer, deeper, more varied past than they might imagine from accounts that stress only the supposed Anglo-American path to \'classical\' liberalism.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksJames Miller...offers an attractively broad and accessible account of democracy from the Greeks to the present ... America’s current plight spurs Miller (drawing on F. Scott Fitzgerald) to some passionate and anguished prose ... Anyone reading...particularly in the current grim political moment, will come away convinced of the fragile nature of the ideas underlying rights-based liberal democracy.
RaveThe Nation...Jackson follows, in occasionally tortuous detail, every significant quarrel in the career of this exceedingly quarrelsome man. But it has for the most part served Jackson well, allowing him to give us a judicious, authoritative, lucid, and engaging portrait ... His De Gaulle will likely remain the standard biography for many years to come. Jackson has composed De Gaulle in a venerable, and very British, empirical style, and makes no attempt to psychoanalyze his subject. While he quotes many people who questioned de Gaulle’s sanity, he never does so himself ... Jackson recounts de Gaulle’s career in a scrupulously fair manner, and his overall conclusions are entirely persuasive.
PanThe NationThe great writers of the Enlightenment, contrary to the way they are often caricatured, were mostly skeptics at heart. They had a taste for irony, an appreciation of paradox, and took delight in wit. They appreciated complexity, rarely shied away from difficulty, and generally had a deep respect for the learning of those who had preceded them. Enlightenment Now has few of these qualities. It is a dogmatic book that offers an oversimplified, excessively optimistic vision of human history and a starkly technocratic prescription for the human future. It also gives readers the spectacle of a professor at one of the world’s great universities treating serious thinkers with populist contempt. The genre it most closely resembles, with its breezy style, bite-size chapters, and impressive visuals, is not 18th-century philosophie so much as a genre in which Pinker has had copious experience: the TED Talk (although in this case, judging by the book’s audio version, a TED Talk that lasts 20 hours) ... what Pinker has actually crystallized in books like Enlightenment Now is our anti-intellectual era, one in which data and code are all too often held to trump serious critical reasoning and the wealth of the humanistic tradition and of morally driven activism is dismissed in favor of supposedly impartial scientific and technological expertise.
MixedThe Nation[Giraed] takes a decidedly critical view of the revolutionaries, starting with Louverture. He shows the greatest sympathy for Louverture when recounting the man’s service as a loyal French officer. Elsewhere, he is considerably more critical. Indeed, at points he comes close to blaming Louverture, and his moves toward independence from France, for some of the most tragic aspects of Haiti’s subsequent history ... The book draws on the most recent scholarship, including fascinating new revelations about its protagonist’s family life ... When confronting the gaps in the record, Girard mostly resorts, like his predecessors, to speculation ... Girard’s is certainly the most up-to-date scholarly treatment and provides a useful guide to the Haitian Revolution’s fearsome complexities, but ultimately his ungenerous portrait of Louverture is simply not convincing.