Despite some repetition, Solnit’s passionate, shrewd, and hopeful critiques are a road map for positive change. Keep these...

WHOSE STORY IS THIS?

OLD CONFLICTS, NEW CHAPTERS

Clarion calls for social and political activism.

Readers familiar with Solnit’s most recent collections of essays, Call Them by Their True Names, the winner of the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction, will find more of the same here, laced with even more scathing and harsh assessments of our world today. In a series of sharp pieces, the author dissects a variety of timely topics, especially the sexual harassment and discrimination of women and the #MeToo movement as well as Native American rights, the anti-gun movement, white nationalism, Black Lives Matter, and climate change. Solnit argues that we live in a transformative time: “You can see change itself happening, if you watch carefully and keep track of what was versus is.” She wants to build “new cathedrals for new constituencies.” The names may have changed, but for Solnit, the stories remain the same. After recalling being sexually harassed by a cook when she was a busgirl, she goes on to discuss Harvey Weinstein and how some men in power can go to “extraordinary lengths to make somebodies into nobodies,” noting “that truth, like women, can be bullied into behaving.” In “Voter Suppression Begins at Home,” Solnit recounts personally observing how husbands can “bully and silence and control their wives,” even with mail-in ballots. She takes on Brett Kavanaugh and Jian Ghomeshi, formerly with CBC, over the “long, brutal tradition of asserting that men are credible but women are not.” She praises Christine Blasey Ford as a “welcome earthquake” for speaking out at the Kavanaugh hearing. The author also praises Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for her Green New Deal and those who helped remove Confederate statues around the country—though she bemoans the fact “that there are only five statues of named women in New York City.” Donald Trump, that “dirtbag dragon,” is often held up for scorn.

Despite some repetition, Solnit’s passionate, shrewd, and hopeful critiques are a road map for positive change. Keep these collections coming.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64259-018-0

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Haymarket Books

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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