Arresting reading that identifies obstacles and dangers to democracy, many at the highest levels of government.

HOW CIVIL WARS START

AND HOW TO STOP THEM

The idea that a second American civil war is brewing is not alarmist hyperbole.

“We are no longer the world’s oldest continuous democracy,” writes Walter, a professor of international relations who has written multiple books about the mechanics of civil war. Instead, the U.S. is now an “anocracy,” a democracy on the road to becoming an autocracy. Chalk much of that decline up to Trump, of course, and those who abetted his efforts to establish an autocracy and preserve it by means of a coup. The image that should be brought to mind is not of columns of blue- and gray-clad soldiers meeting on battlefields; instead, it lies in the scattered rubble of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Walter locates similar circumstances in Ukraine and Myanmar, among other places where “elected leaders—many of whom are quite popular—start to ignore the guardrails that protect their democracies.” Even though the number of democratic nations has grown markedly in the last century, the path to getting there is perilous, since entrenched power interests will always resist sharing their power. Another element of danger to popular rule is technological. “It’s not likely to be a coincidence,” writes the author, “that the global shift away from democracy has tracked so closely with the advent of the internet, the introduction of the iPhone, and the widespread use of social media.” Amplifying radicalism and rewarding attack, such media undermine public trust and reinforce long-standing resentments, a critical component in an antinomian environment in which right-wingers “choose the strategy of the weak: guerrilla warfare and terrorism.” Walter offers a few solutions: eliminating the Electoral College, reforming the Senate, and banning radical expression and disinformation campaigns on social media, for “curbing the dissemination of hate and disinformation would greatly reduce the risk of civil war.”

Arresting reading that identifies obstacles and dangers to democracy, many at the highest levels of government.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-13778-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK MAN

A former NFL player casts his gimlet eye on American race relations.

In his first book, Acho, an analyst for Fox Sports who grew up in Dallas as the son of Nigerian immigrants, addresses White readers who have sent him questions about Black history and culture. “My childhood,” he writes, “was one big study abroad in white culture—followed by studying abroad in black culture during college and then during my years in the NFL, which I spent on teams with 80-90 percent black players, each of whom had his own experience of being a person of color in America. Now, I’m fluent in both cultures: black and white.” While the author avoids condescending to readers who already acknowledge their White privilege or understand why it’s unacceptable to use the N-word, he’s also attuned to the sensitive nature of the topic. As such, he has created “a place where questions you may have been afraid to ask get answered.” Acho has a deft touch and a historian’s knack for marshaling facts. He packs a lot into his concise narrative, from an incisive historical breakdown of American racial unrest and violence to the ways of cultural appropriation: Your friend respecting and appreciating Black arts and culture? OK. Kim Kardashian showing off her braids and attributing her sense of style to Bo Derek? Not so much. Within larger chapters, the text, which originated with the author’s online video series with the same title, is neatly organized under helpful headings: “Let’s rewind,” “Let’s get uncomfortable,” “Talk it, walk it.” Acho can be funny, but that’s not his goal—nor is he pedaling gotcha zingers or pleas for headlines. The author delivers exactly what he promises in the title, tackling difficult topics with the depth of an engaged cultural thinker and the style of an experienced wordsmith. Throughout, Acho is a friendly guide, seeking to sow understanding even if it means risking just a little discord.

This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-80046-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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