MixedThe Los Angeles Review of Books... like your high school history textbook rewritten by the creators of House of Cards trying to imitate the scope of The Silmarillion ... With force and candor, American Rule leads readers through a litany of state-sponsored injustices...aims to be a wake-up call for a national delusion. But Sexton puzzlingly replicates the blind spots of American history through his commitment to holding up a dark mirror. What comes close to being revolutionary fizzles in how it selects details ... Reading American Rule, you hear Sexton’s particular scorn for the evangelical icons who loaned their rhetoric to the American Myth. But there’s also a religious element in American Rule’s forcefulness ... At the macro scale, Sexton makes his points at breakneck speed ... assumes that Americans have been fed reductively heroic stories, so it sets out to do the inverse, without exception ... Perhaps American Rule’s greatest strength is that it refuses to wring its hands while — figuratively — toppling historical figures from their pedestals. Sexton spares readers the tiresome discourse of \'states’ rights\' and the moral relativism of killing and enslaving hundreds of thousands of people. He calls the nation’s atrocities for what he believes they are ... Most of the high-level analysis of American Rule is reserved for the prologue and epilogue. The rest is a firehose of information set loose in chronological order. The onslaught of names and dates is only manageable because of Sexton’s crisp, logical prose. Even someone who slept through high school history class could enjoy American Rule. Regardless, adding a few pages of analysis at the end of each chapter would have given his ideas (and the readers) more room to breathe ... That being said, Sexton’s attempt to document as many American atrocities as possible is admirable. Oft-forgotten topics like the nightmarish occupation of the Philippines and the American eugenics movement are described with stark statistics. Even an informed reader will probably learn about a new horror ... can’t cover every issue, but certain omissions sting because they replicate the problems of American history textbooks ... Sexton spends so much time talking about powerful white men, albeit to point how awful they were, that all other people fade into a faceless oppressed mass. Sometimes his generalizations can be surprisingly tone-deaf ... Aside from a few obvious faux pas, there’s a more frustrating pattern in American Rule. It is reluctant to talk about the actual people oppressed ... extravagant about the abusers but reticent about the victims ... I’m glad American Rule arrived at this conclusion at all, but it feels too little, too late...Whether Sexton realizes it or not, American Rule recreates a narrative it sets out to disrupt, even as it feels like a book anxious white liberals would distribute to conservative relatives before election day ... Considering the ease with which the Trump administration spews out alternative facts, American Rule needed to speak to something deeper. I suspect Sexton’s endeavors would have been more successful if he had chosen to humanize the statistics rather than merely recite them.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of Books... provides decades of context to one of the most sophisticated acts of propaganda in modern history ... Although he sometimes dips into questionable Cold War rhetoric, Rigged is essential reading for anyone who wants to unpack how Putin interfered with the 2016 United States election and what we need to change ... Rigged’s greatest strength is its access to direct sources...Some interviews are more candid than others. Former CIA official Arturo Muñoz is an unexpected breakout star ... Reading about the Clintons, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden in the Cold War’s heyday sheds light on their present-day policy stances. They also remind the reader that top US leadership is a gerontocracy that had no hope of understanding social media until it was too late ... also reveals the ethical conundrums of foreign policy ... The voices of regular people are notably absent. It’s strange reading a book where the author can land an interview with a former US president, but not one of the manipulated voters in Chile or Germany. The omission circumvents any meaningful discussion of those voters’ worries, like hunger or violence. Reading the superpower tit-for-tat reminded me of playing a video game, like Civilization, where the people’s grievances are just a number to be managed ... Shimer’s characterization of Putin is delicious ... When Shimer writes, \'The United States can again defend the democratic experiment, so long as we, as citizens, are willing to do the work,\' he takes a risk on optimism to call for the best in Americans. We’ll see who answers.