RaveThe New RepublicThe book argues powerfully that the open-ended War on Terror has been an exceptionalist fantasy, a bipartisan failure, and a profound risk to American democracy ... The result of nearly two decades of reporting on the wars from a skeptical position, Reign of Terror is attuned to their costs ... One aspect of the book that is both unusual and important is that Ackerman gives attention to the lives of people on the wrong end of U.S. violence, human beings who remain shockingly unfamiliar to most Americans ... In the genre of books that seek to explain why we are in the mess we are in, Reign of Terror is a formidable entry. To those who want to portray Trump as wholly exceptional, and discontinuous with the recent past, the book is an essential corrective ... Ackerman’s book lands at a pivotal moment.
PositiveThe New RepublicThe book concludes the series, providing continuity with the previous entries, but it will also be met by an audience that is living daily in Trumpland, an experience bound to shape their sense of conservatism’s impulses and effects ... Perlstein’s works are less X-rays of the internal structures of the nation at a given time than an MRI of its nervous system, showing when different regions of the brain lit up: here, activated by fear, here by sex, here by joy, here by anger. This is what has made his books grow in size—Reaganland runs to over 1,000 pages—they resemble reading several years of news, with the benefit of hindsight. They succeed when they can make sense of the structure of people’s feelings in a time of significant social division ... One of the values of Perlstein’s heavily narrative and loosely argued approach is that it restores a sense of randomness to outcomes ... Conservative activists remade the country with intensity, opportunism, and persistence through defeat. Those hoping to push back against their influence today might take some strange comfort in the story of their success. Studying the past does not tell you what will be possible in the future, nor promise that hard work will be rewarded. But it seems fair to conclude that the work is necessary, if not sufficient, and that many will not feel the tremors as the ground shifts under their feet.
MixedThe New RepublicIts portrayal of Trump is certainly unflattering, a damning portrait of a man totally out of his depth in the White House and unable to separate his personal interests from national ones. But the book may be equally damning in what it displays about Bolton’s worldview ... The text is peppered with the sort of ephemeral outrages that have been the sound and fury of the last four years ... The most substantive revelations in the book add new information and context to the bill of particulars that led to Trump’s impeachment by the House of Representatives in late 2019 and early 2020 ... For Bolton, the world is full of enemies to be overcome and threats to be defeated, largely through military force and the threat of military force ... The record is more complex, but one thing that The Room Where It Happened makes clear is that Trump thinks of himself as a critic of the war ... The much-publicized $2 million advance Bolton received for The Room Where It Happened indicates that someone may be anticipating a large audience for this book. But I have rarely read a book that made me feel worse. Bolton puts the reader in the miserable position of siding between himself and Trump ... On this, at least, Bolton is convincing: Trump cannot, at a basic level, fulfill the responsibilities of the office ... In the end, The Room Where It Happened is a powerful argument that Trump and Bolton have both been poor stewards of their respective offices.
PositiveThe New RepublicWhat is especially welcome about this effort in the current environment is that it removes the idea of cultural relativism from its status as a punching bag for its enemies. Instead it shows the context from which cultural relativism emerged—a particular moment in the study of humanity, brought about by an age of European exploration, colonialism, and pseudoscientific racism that has more than a few unfortunate points of contact with our own era ... features love triangles and even more ambitious polygons, beginning with the affair between Mead and Benedict. Whether the reader finds this compelling will probably be a matter of taste—I was often waiting for the next judiciously economical summary of a published work—but the relationships do drive the story forward nicely, and they did matter to the work that was done ... It is true that the book has nothing of the didacticism of an after-school special. But its protagonists are its heroes, however flawed, and they repeatedly call for tolerance.
RaveThe New RepublicThe book is written in 22 brisk chapters, full of lively characters, dollops of humor, and surprising facts ... It entertains and means to do so. But its purpose is quite serious: to shift the way that people think about American history ... Immerwahr convincingly argues that the United States looks less like an empire than its European counterparts did not because U.S. policy maintains any inherent commitment to anti-imperialism, but because its empire is disguised first as continuous territory and later by the development of substitutes for formal territorial control ... It is a powerful and illuminating economic argument ... the book succeeds in its core goal: to recast American history as a history of the \'Greater United States\' ... Immerwahr’s book deserves a wide audience, and it should find one. In making the contours of past power more visible, How to Hide an Empire may help make it possible to imagine future alternatives.
MixedThe New RepublicWhitney argues that the government 'weaponized' culture and helped create a compromised media that still serves, 'in part, to encourage support for our interventions.' The term he uses in the title—'finks'—implies that the book’s subjects are disreputable actors, complicit in the crimes of the agency that supported their work ... represents a return to [a] mode of exposing hypocritical alliances rather than explaining their historical motivations ... Whitney makes a compelling case, for instance, that the CIA reinforced the literary prestige of white men in American letters ... Still, Whitney and other critics of the CIA too often aim to portray the agency and those who worked with it as a single entity acting with a unified purpose. The reality was much messier ... Whitney sounds a powerful warning about the dangerous interaction between the national security state and the work of writers and journalists. But the precise experience of the cultural Cold War is unlikely to be repeated.
PositiveThe New Republic...a propulsive and engaging portrait of modern Brazil ... The book may be more revealing than its subjects would like. In fact, it will not be available in Brazil: One of the billionaires in question was unhappy with what he saw in drafts and publishers got spooked ... if Brazillionaires is superficially about Brazil, it also aims to be about more than that. Brazil, in important ways, is more representative of the world than any other country.
RaveThe New RepublicWith all due respect to Orwell, Spain in Our Hearts should supplant Homage to Catalonia as the best introduction to the conflict written in English. A humane and moving book, it is well-paced and meant to be read rather than studied. It might be best described as a post-Cold War history of the Spanish Civil War. Spain in Our Hearts allows its reader to relive, from multiple angles, the emotional and intellectual logic of anti-fascism. That is, perhaps, what will make this book speak to our present moment.