MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThis liberal astigmatism — our belief that history is a story of racial progress, and our faith in our own empathy — makes Eduardo Porter’s American Poison a tough read. It is a learned, well-written but relentless survey of social science studies on the racial polarization, animosity and social fragmentation of American life. A black or Hispanic American reader is likely to finish Porter’s summary of the evidence and say, \'So what else is new?\' For a white liberal, the book leaves many an illusion in tatters ... Porter is at his strongest when he points out the tragic irony of a white working class, decimated by deindustrialization and wasted by substance abuse, focusing their hatreds on minorities and turning against the very social programs — Obamacare, for example — that might actually help them ... Porter treats racial hatred as a fixed dose of poison coursing through the veins of the public and neglects politics ... Porter’s pessimism is a bracing wake-up call for liberal readers and may confirm the darkest fears of many a black and Hispanic reader. Yet it is not the first passionate polemic to damage its impact by overstating its case ... This book came out around the start of the pandemic emergency, and so it is unfair to criticize Porter for failing to anticipate the all but universal cry right now for an effective \'apparatus of government.\' Even so, Porter’s jeremiad makes it impossible to understand the equally tenacious history of American progressive government ... The point here is not to retreat into complacent liberal banalities, but to observe that a story of American race relations that makes no attempt to account for the unending battle to lift its hateful curse ends up being no kind of story at all.
PanThe New York Review of BooksThere’s a lot of anger in this age of ours, but not all anger is the same and not all anger has equal justification. To describe terrorism as an act of anger, for example, may seem to imply that it has a justifying cause. In lumping together the anger of workers left high and dry by plant shutdowns, young people unable to find a secure job, and jihadi killers, Mishra fails to distinguish an anger that results in indiscriminate slaughter and has no justification whatever. Mishra doesn’t bother with such distinctions, it seems, because he sympathizes with the anger of jihadists and believes it has some justification ... To say that 'modernity' led to world wars, totalitarian regimes, and genocide, without showing the clear connection to actual history, is to rely on invective ... Since modernity is actually a multifaceted accumulation of dark and light, progress and retrogression, Mishra’s analysis quickly becomes tangled in its own contradictions ... Mishra’s analysis, which removes political agency from the story of modernity, makes it impossible to grasp that our present situation could have turned out very differently.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksSpiral is a masterly writer’s case for the prosecution, a patriot’s indictment of his own country’s folly ... Danner neglects the other side of the ledger. America is less trapped in the folly of Bush-era policies than he maintains ... Danner’s indictment of these [Obama's] policies is unsparing, but it is sometimes less than clear what he would propose in their stead ... Danner is clearer about what America shouldn’t do than what it should. He shows, with eloquent conviction and considerable evidence, that torture, rendition, domestic surveillance, foreign wars, and democracy promotion at gunpoint have made America more enemies than friends.