Extraordinary measures during extraordinary times, documented meticulously if somewhat academically.

THE WUHAN LOCKDOWN

A thorough account of the events leading to the Covid-19 lockdown in Wuhan, China, in early 2020, drawing from dozens of personal accounts (“lockdown diaries”).

The outbreak of SARS (another coronavirus) in 2003 had prepared the Chinese health community for the detection of mysterious cases of pneumonia in late December 2019 and early January 2020. However, when hospitals and physicians such as Li Wenliang sounded the alarm, they were censured for spreading “unverified information.” Wenliang later died of the virus, becoming a kind of martyr. From Jan. 4 to Jan. 20, life for the city of 11 million went on as usual, with huge festivities for the Lunar New Year as well as several political congresses, despite the alarming news about the pneumonia cases. “The 20-day delay in informing the public was irresponsible state behavior, to say the least,” writes Yang, a professor of sociology and digital culture at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is the deputy director of the Center for the Study of Contemporary China. Despite authoritative strictures put in place over the past decade, and with the ascendancy of Xi Jinping and his emphasis on “civility” and “positive energy,” internet culture and netizen protests had strengthened, giving power to regular citizens. By the time of the lockdown on Jan. 23, when emergency mobilization measures were implemented, people began to take the matter into their own hands, reverting to behaviors not seen since the Cultural Revolution—e.g., the use of loudspeakers (“blunt force regulation” in order to “reduce bureaucratic discretion”) warning people to stay indoors, chanting slogans, neighborhood watchdog associations, and other instances of belligerence, resilience, and endurance among the Wuhan population. The tone may be too scholarly for some readers, but that does little to diminish the power of the diaries, which clearly demonstrate this emotionally trying period of lockdown.

Extraordinary measures during extraordinary times, documented meticulously if somewhat academically.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-231-20047-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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A deceptively slender but rich argument in favor of conserving liberal ideals—and liberal government.

LIBERALISM AND ITS DISCONTENTS

The renowned political scientist and philosopher considers classical liberalism and the broad range of enemies arrayed against it.

“By ‘liberalism,’ ” writes Fukuyama, “I refer to the doctrine…that argued for the limitation of the powers of governments through law and ultimately constitutions, creating institutions protecting the rights of individuals living under their jurisdiction.” Born of events such as the English civil war and the Enlightenment, this liberalism also encouraged diversity of thought, religion, and ethnicity, placing it squarely in the crosshairs of today’s authoritarian nationalists, not least Donald Trump. Fukuyama has often been identified with conservative causes, but his thinking here is democratic to the core, and he has no use for such pathetic lies as Trump’s insistence that the 2020 election was stolen. That said, the author notes that liberalism has many enemies on both the left and the right for numerous real yet correctable failings. The neoliberalism that has emerged over the past couple of generations has accelerated inequality, and numerous institutions have been eroded while others, such as the Electoral College, have been revealed to be anti-democratic. Both left and right, the author argues, have trouble accepting that governing over diversity, the hallmark of liberalism, means governing over many ethnic and national groups, strata of income, and competing interests. He adds, however, “Left-of-center voters…remain much more diverse” in political outlook. Essential to a liberal society, Fukuyama insists, is the right to vote: “Voting rights are fundamental rights that need to be defended by the power of the national government.” While he insists that individual rights take precedence over group rights, he also observes that the social contract demands citizen participation. To the conservative charge that the social contract is one thing but the “common moral horizon” another, he answers that yes, liberalism does not insist on a single morality—which “is indeed a feature and not a bug.”

A deceptively slender but rich argument in favor of conserving liberal ideals—and liberal government.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-374-60671-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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