PanThe Times (UK)Sometimes instant books can be too instant ... Like a charismatic but intellectually arrogant schoolmaster, the Economist tutors hand back their homework to western leaders and it’s red ink everywhere ... Only this time it doesn’t really work. The book is just too cartoonish, too scatter-gun, and fails to offer an explanation for half of the thesis: why the East survived so relatively unscathed ... It is also a case study in Covid Confirmation Bias, slotting recent events into their own previous work on state failure in the West, including the more extreme failures of populist-inclined ones ... Who can disagree that many western countries, led by the US and UK, failed the Covid test? Yet scratch the surface and you find a host of anomalies: why did Quebec and Belgium do so badly and Greece so well? And the book swings between attributing all national differences to the politicians in charge and then claiming that it is \'lazy\' to blame poor performance on a particular set of leaders ... The idea that relative death figures are a measure of government competence is surely too simple ... In terms of the West-East comparison the analysis is even more threadbare. The authors clearly have no idea why the East performed so much better ... An investigation of those two factors would have been illuminating; instead we are left with a couple of pages on Singapore and its brilliant bureaucracy and highly selective education system as a model for the rest of Asia. Yet Singapore is a city state usually described as an illiberal democracy with a collectivist ethos, surely not something Economist writers would recommend for the more individualistic West ... This short book has some compensating virtues ... instead of investigating whether, say, more federal states did better in the crisis than more centralised ones (Germany says yes; the US no), they throw out random ideas ... And after all the huffing and puffing about state redesign, their three big ideas are anything but ... Also missing is a close-up analysis of the UK’s failures.
PositiveThe Literary Review (UK)... an illuminating political memoir about the break-up of the political tribe that won the Cold War. It can be read with profit even if you disagree, as I do, with the thesis it is wrapped up in ... This is an angry book ... Applebaum’s favourite explanation, at least for the rise of deviant populist leaders, is personal inadequacy and resentment of the successful, competent meritocrats of mainstream politics...This is all lively and entertaining but rather too black and white. Her account of British politics and the success of the Brexit campaign verges on the cartoonish. She details the lies and exaggerations of the Brexit camp without mentioning the lies and exaggerations promoted by Remainers – most conspicuously, forecasts of economic collapse – which had the backing of the state machine. She also promotes that old canard that Brexit was driven by imperial nostalgia and a longing for ‘a world in which England made the rules’. That may have been true of a few eccentric figures hanging around The Spectator in the 1990s, but one of the striking things about postwar British history is precisely the lack of nostalgia for empire on the Right, thanks in part to the absence of significant settler populations in Britain’s colonies (unlike in France’s) ... a highly readable example of the new genre of liberal catastrophism. Like others who write in this manner, Applebaum is not careful enough to distinguish between genuine social conservatives and the authoritarians and bigots who inhabit the fringes of the new conservative movements ... She also turns a blind eye to the failings of her own tribe.
Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson
PositiveThe TimesThis is a popular guide to modern demography, by two Canadian journalists, with a very strong point of view about the direction of travel. It is full of fascinating speculation and written with an energy that degenerates only occasionally into jauntiness ... wielding a mix of data, argument and reportage, the authors do a decent job of explaining why [population decline] is probably going to happen ... their proselytising for the Canadian ideology of the citizens of nowhere—economism, individualism, androgynous feminism, multiculturalism—is rather charmingly undermined by their own acknowledgement that Canada is a historical one-off and a somewhat colorless one at that.
MixedThe Evening StandardPaul Collier is nothing if not ambitious ... Collier belongs to that sadly small band of truly useful social science academics who read the most relevant research, transcending the narrow specialisation of the academy, and apply it in a pragmatic manner to contemporary problems ... Collier can be a bit slapdash with his facts and perhaps tries to cram too much into one book, meaning some ideas feel half-digested. He has a good turn of phrase, though, and can be witty too, on the social bias of Spellcheck for example. This book is not an easy read but it is an important one — the revenge of the clever provincial biting the metropolitan hand that has fed him so generously.
PositiveThe Evening StandardAn important and challenging book ... This book will help sell a lot of [genomics] kits but will shock, and maybe anger, a lot of people too ... Determinism and striving for a better world are uneasy bedfellows. Plomin probably underestimates the extent to which his message can reinforce existing unfairnesses and encourage fatalism — if fatness is mainly in the genes, what’s the point of trying to stay thin? Plomin may overclaim for genes but he has provided important new evidence in a never-ending argument.
RaveThe TimesFor anyone interested in the future of Islam, both in Britain and the Islamic world, this is an important book ... Husain’s writing can be little old-fashioned (\'she was a wise and constant counsellor\') but his style reflects his pious temperament. And it is the combination of deep religious commitment and western reformist politics that makes him such an necessary figure.