A relevant, readable effort to link past American colonialism to the present impulse to install homegrown leaders for life.

GANGSTERS OF CAPITALISM

SMEDLEY BUTLER, THE MARINES, AND THE MAKING AND BREAKING OF AMERICA'S EMPIRE

Character study of the Marine hero who became a radical critic of the system he’d fought to uphold.

Smedley Butler (1881-1940), whose father was a member of Congress, came from a prosperous, influential family. He was determined to excel, and nowhere else did he do so more than as an officer in the Marines, patrolling places such as the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico—islands that formed the basis of an American empire. In his nearly 35 years in uniform, Butler later said, “I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers….In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.” Foreign correspondent Katz bookends Butler’s service with a “Business Plot” that, filtered through the American Legion in the 1930s, was intended to mirror the rise of Mussolini in Italy. Butler was asked to head a column of World War I veterans in a march on Washington as Mussolini had marched on Rome, installing the president as a powerless figurehead fronting a fascist government. Butler replied to his interlocutor, “my interest is, my one hobby is, maintaining a democracy,” promising that he would raise an army to fight these homegrown fascists. He then took evidence of the plot to Congress, which did precisely nothing. Katz, naturally, links this plot to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Though Butler won two Medals of Honor and is exalted among Marines, Katz makes clear that it’s his heroism and not his politics that are remembered—and then dimly—even as he raised questions about American society and foreign policy that go unanswered today. The author is also not reticent about pointing out that Butler’s dedication to American democracy did not hinder him from crushing democratic movements in Cuba and Haiti, where he helped install regimes that were friendly to the autocracy he despised.

A relevant, readable effort to link past American colonialism to the present impulse to install homegrown leaders for life.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-13558-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

THE WAR ON THE WEST

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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