Exemplary political writing by a renowned maverick.



Uncollected essays by one of America’s preeminent political philosophers.

If anyone deserves the mantle “America’s Orwell,” it’s Rorty (1931-2007), who combined political activism and sharp observation with a fierce intellectual independence that allowed him to criticize both left-wing and right-wing ambitions. He also had a dependably Orwellian lack of faith that his fellow humans would rise up to defend democratic institutions if it involved sacrificing self-interest. Indeed, as Rorty writes about one notorious apologist for authoritarianism, “People like [Rush] Limbaugh will persuade more and more white males who cannot find a foothold in the middle class that the improvements in the situation of college-educated women, blacks, and gays have been made at their expense.” That proved to be just so, and those resentments, which he considers elsewhere, enabled the rise of the person whom he saw in outline if not in name, the would-be fascist strongman who would undo America’s institutions—which, Rorty wrote in 2004, “have become pretty fragile”—and attempt to install himself as president for life regardless of election outcomes. The author didn’t hold out much hope for democracy when he was alive, and surely he wouldn’t now. He ponders how future historians will interpret an American democracy that lasted barely 200 years, “like the age of the Antonines,” replaced by a “corrupt plutocracy.” Of particular relevance are Rorty’s repeated observations on the effects of economic inequality, in the U.S. and worldwide, which he predicted would lead to resource wars and political instability. He also lands a strong point by noting that because Republicans are reluctant to discuss wealth inequality, they favor igniting skirmishes in a long-fought culture war. Disconcertingly, he adds, “What is more surprising is that the left should let itself be so distracted from its longtime concern with economic redistribution,” suckered into battling those wars instead of keeping its eye on the prize.

Exemplary political writing by a renowned maverick.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-691-21752-9

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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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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