A well-researched, dispiriting dissection of politics that lends a genealogy to homegrown authoritarianism.

THE DESTRUCTIONISTS

THE TWENTY-FIVE-YEAR CRACK-UP OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY

Washington Post columnist Milbank locates the origins of the Jan. 6 insurrection in a GOP pivot 25 years earlier.

“Before the antigovernment MAGA…rallies, there were the rage-filled Tea Party town halls of 2010 and the Republican Revolutionaries of 1994, advised by [Newt] Gingrich to call Democrats ‘traitors,’ ‘sick,’ and ‘corrupt.’ ” As the author reminds us, at the time, Gingrich was briefly the speaker of the House of Representatives. Among Milbank’s rogues’ gallery are other figures familiar to us today, including Roe v. Wade opponent Brett Kavanaugh, who cut his teeth with a lingeringly obscene line of questioning of Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and “worked closely with cranks” to try to prove the Clintons’ role in Vince Foster’s notorious suicide. By Milbank’s account, the GOP’s assault on science, education, and democracy itself began with Gingrich’s cynical “contract with America,” only a couple of whose planks were ever made law—the most lasting a paperwork reduction act. Perhaps ugliest of all was Gingrich’s dog-whistling insistence on racist politics that pitted blue-collar and rural Whites against their imagined enemies, namely people of color. Gingrich and company were not above slandering their own, as with the assault on John McCain’s character in a campaign largely engineered by Karl Rove, who believed that “squandering national unity and politicizing war would win Bush seats.” That war, in Iraq, was driven by a habit of lying that Donald Trump would raise to an art form. Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh, and others amplified the lies. Meanwhile, even though former Speaker of the House John Boehner glumly observes, “There is no Republican Party. There’s a Trump Party,” the losing actors of yore are back, with Gingrich now serving as an adviser to Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy. “The man who started American politics down the road to destruction,” writes Milbank, “is returning to see his work completed.”

A well-researched, dispiriting dissection of politics that lends a genealogy to homegrown authoritarianism.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54813-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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