RaveLondon Review of Books (UK)Who was Barack Obama? The man himself seems troubled by this question and his notably introspective memoir offers up some surprising answers ... This mix of personal uncertainty and political portentousness gives Obama’s narrative a strangely airless quality. For such an unlikely story...it is oddly lacking in drama ... Obama has little to say about the political divide that his own experiences could do nothing to bridge ... His innate dignity and his decency shine through this book. Yet it feels throughout as though something is missing ... What’s missing is a clear-eyed account of the institutional reforms that are needed as well ... As I came to the end of this book I was bothered by which world leader Obama reminded me of. Not Medvedev for sure. Then I realised: it was David Cameron, whose recent memoir, also overlong, also packed with detailed accounts of tough policy choices, was also imbued with a rhetoric of hope ... These memoirs feel too long partly because they are trying to put off what’s coming. And with Obama we still have another book to go.
Ravethe Guardian (UK)...remarkable rivalries within the Kennedy family – propelled by valour, vanity and greed – form the backbone of volume one of Frederik Logevall’s riveting life of JFK, which takes the story up to 1956. They serve as a vignette of American history in the middle years of the 20th century, where valour, vanity and greed were also the driving forces ... Dominating it all is the frightful and formidable paterfamilias Joe Sr. Logevall paints a richly sympathetic portrait of the old monster, paying tribute to his many gifts as well as sparing us none of the grim details of the dark side of his personality ... Unlike his father, JFK was extraordinarily skilled at creating the right impression ... As a result, he emerges from this biography as a less clearly defined figure than many of those around him. Logevall has written a superb book but its central character remains elusive ... Jack had the charm and the grace but his little brother had the steel. JFK came to rely on Bobby to do his dirty work. How that helped him reach the White House is for volume two. But already from this book it is clear that the ultimate fulfilment of the Kennedy clan’s political ambitions required that the glamorous, nimble Jack distance himself from his father and move closer to his younger brother. Which means he never really distanced himself at all.
RaveThe London Review of BooksMoore is a peerless guide to the Thatcher years because he is wholly at home in this world. The three volumes of his biography stand comparison with Robert Caro’s Life of Lyndon Johnson in their ability to show us how power works from the inside. Personal relationships at or near the top matter far more than political posturing. It would probably be wise to remember that in the years ahead ... At the same time, this book reminds us just how much has changed.
PanLondon Review of Books (UK)The reason this book is so long, and ultimately so wearying to read, is that he is determined to recount it all and to remind us of everything that made up his premiership ... Cameron...has plenty of blind spots. He prides himself on his far greater openness to appointing women to important positions than any of his predecessors, including his ultimate hero, Margaret Thatcher. He boasts that by the time he left office nearly half his special advisers were female. He resents the accusation that he was running a ‘chumocracy’, which is one reason Gove’s jibe about the Old Etonian coterie at Number 10 really stung. Yet in this book it is noticeable that, with the exception of his wife and Angela Merkel, almost all the important conversations he recounts are with men. Women are often present, but usually in the background, and sometimes they aren’t there at all ... the person who is really missing from this book is his successor. He barely mentions her, even after he appointed her home secretary in 2010 ... the oddity is that Cameron managed to retain his non-binary view of politics when he had such a binary view of other people. And it’s not just his fellow politicians that he sorts into team players and the rest—it’s society as a whole ... This is absurd: if politics can be multifaceted then so too can everything else. Society does not have to be either broken or fixed: it can be both and it can be neither.
PanThe London Review of BooksThe blustering, obscene, insatiable, limitlessly restless author of Hitch-22 doesn’t come across as much of a priest manqué, not even a whisky priest. What he most resembles, to an almost uncanny degree, is a particular kind of political romantic ... In one of the many striking digressions in Hitch-22, Hitchens argues that the big difference between revolutionary socialists and Fascists is that revolutionary socialists are at least capable of changing their minds when confronted with evidence of the horrors that have been committed in the name of their creed ... ...A long, discursive, occasionally gripping, intermittently diverting but sometimes rather boring book. It is not very funny, despite being crammed full of jokes.
Robert S. Mueller
PositiveThe London Review of Books (UK)Mueller’s forensic techniques and the Trump campaign’s chaotic practices don’t suit each other. It’s tempting to speculate what might have been produced if this kind of scrutiny had been applied to the Clinton campaign instead. ...If Clinton had something to hide, she would have buried it deep, meaning that if you ever did find it, there would be ample evidence of foresight. Trump chose to hide his secrets in plain view. But what saves Trump from the charge of conspiracy is what damns him on the charge of obstruction ... The Mueller report, even in this redacted form, is damning. Trump is not fit to be president. He has attempted to obstruct the legal system and to intimidate and coerce the people who worked for him. Trump has told people to lie – including people who reported to him in his capacity as president – and he has done it often. The evidence is here. But on the question of whether he should be impeached, Mueller does not speak. That, too, is above his pay grade.
MixedThe GuardianThis book does a good job of showing that the two-way contest between experts and the people is really a three-way relationship: both are fighting to claim the authority of the state ... These are sparkling insights, but Nervous States can’t decide whether we are living in unprecedented times or not. As a publishing strategy, it makes sense to talk up the novelty of the current moment, but the argument frequently cuts against that. Just as the idea of post-truth starts to lose its edge when we try to find an age of truth to contrast it with (there aren’t any), so the notion of a world struggling to cope with feeling sounds more like a part of the modern human condition than a distinctively 21st-century phenomenon ... For an account that is rightly sceptical of many inflated claims to expertise, Davies’s argument is often based on versions of the same ... Where it is useful to his account, he uses factual evidence to bolster his case, yet he often undercuts it at the same time ... This is an ambitious book with plenty to commend it...It represents an attempt to join up the myriad dots of our anxieties, but I could not see a way through its maze of facts and feelings, authorities and counter-authorities.
PositiveThe London Review of Books\"Bob Woodward’s new book about the first year of the Trump administration raises [several] thorny issues, but it turns them on their head ... Almost no one in this book comes across as authentically themselves, because each source is replaying the events so as to come out of them with a minimum of dignity. Since there is no dignity to be had in Trump’s White House, this often sounds forced and fake. The one person who appears to be himself throughout is the one person whom Woodward acknowledges at the outset did not grant an interview for the book: Trump. The president emerges as a bizarre and brutish character, but his behaviour has a strong streak of consistency ... For the most part, Woodward tells his story straight and leaves the reader to draw the moral, though he also makes sure that the moral is hard to miss.\
PositiveThe London Review of BooksThe tug-of-war between the two sides of Obama’s sporting personality—the team leader and the loner, the dreamer and the realist, the man who thinks anything is still possible and the man who has done his best, then shrugs his shoulders and walks away—is emblematic of the fundamental tension running through this fascinating book ... Part of the charm of Rhodes’s story is that he doesn’t try to hide the extent to which this was largely about his own crisis of identity. The book is engagingly honest in its self-centredness. He refers throughout to his own anxieties and doubts, his feeling that he is not getting the recognition he deserves and his worry that he might have sold himself cheap ... For a speechwriter, there is a particular poignancy in realising that being tasked with finding things for Obama to say—ith preparing the text – is part of what creates the barrier between them. How can Obama be true to himself as Rhodes wants him to be when Rhodes is the person making Obama who he is? Sometimes this contrast is so stark it is almost comic, and Rhodes appreciates the irony ... The tension between what is and what ought to be forms the essence of most political coming-of-age memoirs and this one is no different from other classics of the genre, such as The Education of Henry Adams: the dilemmas it describes could come from any time in the history of modern politics, not just our own.
MixedThe GuardianTaplin’s sense of outrage is palpable and his case is often compelling. Unfortunately, the two parts of the argument don’t really hang together ... He leans too heavily on the assumption that the 1960s and 70s represented an artistic golden age whose like we will never see again ... In the end, Taplin is reduced to hoping that the dominant players of the digital world will come to their senses and realise the damage they are doing. Of Zuckerberg, he writes: 'I hope that the young CEO of Facebook will be willing to pause and think about where his company is taking the media business.' So that’s what we’ve been reduced to: wishing for a 'good emperor' to hear his people’s distress.
Yuval Noah Harari
RaveThe Guardian...[a] spellbinding book ... We are just at the start of this process of data-driven transformation and Harari says there is little we can do to stop it. Homo Deus is an 'end of history' book, but not in the crude sense that he believes things have come to a stop. Rather the opposite: things are moving so fast that it’s impossible to imagine what the future might hold ... This is a very intelligent book, full of sharp insights and mordant wit. But as Harari would probably be the first to admit, it’s only intelligent by human standards, which are nothing special. By the standards of the smartest machines it’s woolly and speculative. The datasets are pretty limited. Its real power comes from the sense of a distinctive consciousness behind it ... Nietzsche once wrote that humanity is about to set sail on an open sea, now that we have finally left Christian morality behind. Homo Deus makes it feel as if we are standing at the edge of a cliff after a long and arduous journey. The journey doesn’t seem so important any more. We are about to step into thin air.
PositiveThe GuardianThe Olympics have never really been about sport. As David Goldblatt shows in this bracingly debunking history ... Goldblatt writes about this with all his usual intelligence and social insight. But in contrast to his magnificent history of global football – The Ball Is Round – it’s not clear that his heart is really in it. At times the book feels more dutiful than the work of an enthusiast, or even an iconoclast. Nonetheless, he retains a superb eye for the telling detail, especially in little tales of personal failure to set alongside the more familiar stories of heroic success. Some of these are haunting.