An exciting, tragic story seasoned with sensitive social analysis and criticism.

RUTHLESS TIDE

THE TRAGIC EPIC OF THE JOHNSTOWN FLOOD

The ebullient weather personality from NBC’s Today show returns with a flood account that is both intimate and alert to the wealth and class distinctions highlighted by the 1889 Johnstown Flood.

Roker, who wrote about a 1900 hurricane (The Storm of the Century, 2015, etc.), has some sizable footsteps to follow in this one—David McCullough’s 1968 The Johnstown Flood—but he fills them nicely in this fresh account of the Pennsylvania dam break that destroyed Johnstown and killed more than 2,000 people. Roker is especially adept at focusing on key individuals—residents, politicians, movers and shakers, rescue workers—and letting their stories represent the myriads of others. One harrowing tale involves the improbable rescue of a little girl in the swirling torrent that struck the town during a heavy rain when a dam, 14 miles away (and above the town), broke and sent millions of tons of water surging down into Johnstown and some small communities that lay in the torrent’s path. The author is also very alert to the class issues that underlay it all. The earthen dam formed a lake for some very wealthy citizens (among them, Andrew Carnegie), who, of course, denied responsibility afterward. Roker notes that only 35 of the 60 members of this wealthy-person’s club contributed to the relief fund. The author also goes into detail—sometimes too much—about some of the individuals involved: Carnegie, Clara Barton (whose Red Cross would swell in public awareness afterward), and numerous others. He points out some inconsistencies in American thought, as well—about how, for instance, we are quick to help people suffering in a natural disaster but not suffering from everyday poverty and disease. He also discusses some of the nasty anti-immigrant feelings that emerged during the cleanup.

An exciting, tragic story seasoned with sensitive social analysis and criticism.

Pub Date: May 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-244551-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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As pretentious as it is outlandish, but at least authentically mind-boggling.

THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE WORLD

AS LAID DOWN BY THE SECRET SOCIETIES

An encyclopedic, lavishly illustrated attempt to discern an alternative-belief system in the broad diversity of ancient paganism and mystical offshoots of the major faiths.

“Christianity contains a hidden tradition of the gods of the stars and planets,” proclaims British publishing executive Booth. While much of this tradition, including biblical allegories, has been denigrated by Mother Church, it has hardly been hidden. The author’s mystical guardian institutions include the Christian-associated Freemasons and Rosicrucians, which both arose at the outset of the 18th century from earlier origins; Cabalism on the Hebrew side; and Sufism from Islam. Much of the problem with this roughly chronological narrative is its hazy documentation: Readers must be content with “a friend of mine” or “an initiate I met” as substantiating sources. Likewise, we must accept Booth’s own innate ability to peer into antiquity and presume the influence of “mystery schools” on such figures as Plato. He seamlessly moves from reportage to proselytizing, presenting for instance a precise date in the 12th millennium BCE as the moment when matter reached its final solidified state in the progression of existence from pure thought (preceding matter itself) through a “human vegetable” state to the present form. Tracing this progression, Booth cites all kinds of permutations, fairy tales and familiar hippie spiritualist icons along the way. Humankind loses its third eye, can no longer directly interact with spirits and deities, must be content with the stifling restrictions of the scientific method to comprehend creation, etc. One culminating highlight: George Washington, a known Freemason, decrees that the capital city be laid out to reflect the geometry of the constellation Virgo, thus inviting “the mother goddess” to participate in determining the future of the United States. Somebody should tell President Bush to please get in touch.

As pretentious as it is outlandish, but at least authentically mind-boggling.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59020-031-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2007

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