An essential examination of what democracy is and can be, how it can be abused or strengthened, and how we can move forward.


An introduction to democracy as a concept, taking readers through its origin, processes, and components.

Princeton social sciences professor Müller begins by stressing that his latest book—after What Is Populism? (2016)—“is not a political manual” and that, despite significant setbacks, “democracy does still rule—in the sense that plenty of people around the globe view it as deeply desirable.” In this fascinating, readable work, the author helps readers understand exactly how democracy is meant to work. Meticulously researched and clearly spelled out, the narrative demonstrates what democracy is and isn’t, and Müller also includes a coda entitled “Five Reasons for Democratic Hope (Not Optimism).” Each section explores a specific aspect of democracy, including representation, governance, infrastructure, disobedience, borders, and others. The author reminds us that “we are all in favor of learning from history, but we implicitly assume that only good people learn from it,” and he emphasizes that anti-democratic governments work hard to look democratic on the surface. If we seek to understand democracy, we must also acknowledge the lure and strategies of both populism and authoritarianism. “Populism is not uniquely responsible for polarization,” writes the author, “but it’s important to understand that populists’ key strategy simply is polarization.” Throughout the book, Müller provides historical context and many examples of when democratic principles are undermined or ignored. While “parties and media provide the essential infrastructure of democracy,” Müller shows why it’s crucial that they are not only autonomous, but accessible to every citizen, and he also delves into the pitfalls of social media. For such an all-encompassing, often messy, and contentious subject, the author maintains a concise, consistently informative narrative that explains key terms and theoretical frameworks in a way that should engage a wide audience.

An essential examination of what democracy is and can be, how it can be abused or strengthened, and how we can move forward.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-13647-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.


From the Pocket Change Collective series

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.


A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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