A damning portrait of a chaotic, inept administration that posed countless dangers to the nation and the world.

A SACRED OATH

MEMOIRS OF A SECRETARY OF DEFENSE DURING EXTRAORDINARY TIMES

Donald Trump’s secretary of defense dishes on his dimwitted boss and an army of enablers.

“Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?” As Esper, a West Point graduate and combat veteran, recounts at the opening of this overlong memoir, those were Trump’s words when protestors surrounded the White House in June 2020. It wouldn’t be the only absurd question from Trump, who also asked Esper why they couldn’t launch missiles into Mexico to destroy cartel drug labs. Much of Esper’s work as secretary of the Army and then secretary of defense, to judge by his account, was devoted to trying to explain to Trump and his cronies why they couldn’t do such things thanks to inconvenient obstacles such as the Constitution and international law. Indeed, Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Mark Milley developed what they called the “Four Nos”: “no unnecessary wars; no strategic retreats; no politicization of the DoD; and no misuse of the military.” The White House seemed bent on breaking each of those rules, as when it demanded politicizing the military by means of a North Korea–worthy triumphant parade and misusing it with plans for martial law and seizing voting machines. Esper’s account could have used some trimming, but he’s rigorously methodical and a capable writer. His explanation of the Alexander Vindman scandal, when Trump pressured Esper to illegally expel a whistleblower from the ranks, is the most thorough in the literature (outside of Vindman’s own memoir). The author takes special pains to show how, over the course of Trump’s four years, competent civil and military servants were forced out and replaced by loyalists; in Trump’s desperate last year, it was nothing short of a purge. Esper ventures that Trump’s instincts were not always wrong, but, as he explains, “the ends he often sought rarely survived the ways and means he typically pursued to accomplish them.”

A damning portrait of a chaotic, inept administration that posed countless dangers to the nation and the world.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-314431-6

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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