MixedThe New YorkerOnce slavery is positioned as the foundational institution of American capitalism, the country’s subsequent history can be depicted as an extension of this basic dynamic. This is what Walter Johnson does in his new book ... The study demonstrates both the power of the model and its limitations ... For his purposes, St. Louis is a case study in the pervasiveness and the longevity of racism outside the formal boundaries of slavery ... Indeed, as Johnson moves through the twentieth century, he consistently treats what are often taken to be national trends as toxic gifts from St. Louis ... Racial capitalists conquered the West; racial capitalists waged the Civil War; racial capitalists industrialized St. Louis, and then deindustrialized it, at every step exploiting black people just as brutally as slaveholders did. It’s a big, all-explanatory theory that is serviced by the tone of Johnson’s account, which is forcefully didactic at every moment. The Broken Heart of America is a history populated by good guys and bad guys—many more of the latter ... Johnson’s propensity for pasting condemnatory labels on his characters displays a concern that, without his firm guidance, readers may not draw the proper conclusions from the material he is presenting. He is disinclined to describe any situation as ambiguous ... Johnson is as insistently moralizing in his way as previous generations of romantic, heroic historians of the West were in theirs.
Michael S. Roth
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewSafe Enough Spaces is written in president-ese; Roth is drawn to the formulation that the left believes X, the right believes Y, but that actually \'it is unnecessary to make a fundamental choice between these approaches\' ... [Roth\'s] primary passion...isn’t in searching for the elusive compromise in campus controversies, but in defending universities from outside critics. His critiques of writers like Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff have a crispness and clarity that, because of the position he holds, whatever he says about Wesleyan can’t.
Anthony T. Kronman
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewThe Assault on American Excellence may well be the most full-throated attack on the academic embrace of diversity produced by a prominent, if former, senior university official in the entire half-century history of affirmative action in higher education ... in his frequent invocations of aristocracy, Kronman can sound as if he is an English earl who was raised on an ancestral estate ... He is deeply drawn...to focusing on diversity as the serpent in the garden, the major corrupter of his rococo educational vision. To do that is to blame it for something it didn’t cause; conversely, removing it would not produce the kind of university Kronman wants. His book ought to draw attention not so much to the continuing controversies around diversity as to the larger idea in which his attack on diversity is embedded. Do we really want our universities to become undemocratic institutions, ruled by a class that thinks of itself as being existentially superior to the rest of us?
PositiveThe New YorkerHoover was doomed to be remembered as the man who was too rigidly conservative to react adeptly to the Depression, as the hapless foil to the great Franklin Roosevelt, and as the politician who managed to turn a Republican country into a Democratic one ... [Hoover] helpfully lays out a long and copious résumé that doesn’t fit on this stamp of dismissal ... Whyte, however unsympathetic he finds Hoover personally, is almost entirely on his side as a policymaker—not least when it comes to his handling of the economic crisis that began a few months into his Presidency.
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewLevin aims to rescue the country from the big-government tendencies of the Clinton and Obama administrations; and although he doesn’t say so explicitly, there is an unmistakable strain of disapproval for George W. Bush’s presidency here too ... Levin believes that both parties, in their different ways, are caught up in the fundamental mistake of wanting to restore such features of post-World War II America as steadily rising incomes and low economic inequality, hegemony in the global economy, growing government, broad membership in the mainstream religions and a white-bread mass culture ... His big idea is that during the first half of the 20th century, the United States created a set of large, powerful institutions that dominated national life, and then, in the second half of the century, the national culture moved away from these institutions and toward individualis ... He calls his book 'an essay,' and its main strength and main weakness are the same: It fits a vast range of material under the roof of one fairly short volume, but at the price of speaking primarily in general assertions unsupported by evidence ... Levin frequently maneuvers himself into range of specific policies — on social programs, on economic regulation, on immigration — and then leaves us to guess what he’s actually for, as if he fears that by taking a position he would lose our attention or alienate potential converts.