A cogent analysis of the cultural realities of war.

LOOKING FOR THE GOOD WAR

AMERICAN AMNESIA AND THE VIOLENT PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

Samet investigates a vital question: “Has the prevailing memory of the ‘Good War,’ shaped…by nostalgia, sentimentality, and jingoism, done more harm than good?”

The author, a professor of English at West Point, engages in a simultaneously deep and wide exploration of the way the meaning and memory of World War II have shaped American identity, its sense of standing in the world, and narratives of other wars: Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, “and, retrospectively, the Civil War.” Drawing on a vast number of sources, including histories; firsthand accounts in letters, memoirs, and reportage; fiction; movies (produced during and after the war); comic books; and the Army’s guidebooks for soldiers, Samet smoothly distills the myths Americans have told themselves to justify the epithet of the “Good War” for a noble battle to liberate the world from fascism. That self-righteous myth, Samet asserts, “appeals to our national vanity, confirms the New World’s superiority to the Old, and validates modernity and the machine.” The experience of the war was marked by disillusion and confusion in the battlefield and on the homefront. The author underscores the ambivalence that pervaded the nation. Even as reports circulated about Nazi atrocities, most Americans were indifferent. The Pacific war, writes Samet, was “complicated by bitter racism” against the Japanese, while postwar novels and films “exhibit [the] confusion, discontent, and disaffection” felt by many returning soldiers. Furthermore, violence became not just associated with battle, but “an end in and of itself.” For example, “in the absence of a foreign enemy against whom to deploy their violence, comic books moved in the direction of brutality and horror.” Violence remains a lasting legacy of the war, leading Americans “repeatedly to imagine that the use of force can accomplish miraculous political ends even when we have the examples of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan to tell us otherwise.” Not just timely, Samet’s work is incisively argued and revelatory in its criticism.

A cogent analysis of the cultural realities of war.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-21992-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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