Perceptive insights into a consistently dysfunctional international relationship.



A cogent assessment of Russia from a former CIA officer and creator of the TV show The Americans.

Coming of age in the 1970s, Weisberg was taught that the Soviet Union was communist and politically repressive and the U.S. was the opposite. Then the Soviet Union collapsed, and the new Russia embraced Christianity and capitalism but remained repressive—although less so. Relations improved but then deteriorated into what many call a second cold war. Weisberg, a levelheaded analyst, maintains that the rise of an assertive Russia under Putin convinced American leaders that the evil empire had returned. The author adds that American politicians regularly proclaim that people throughout the world yearn for democracy, although the efforts to spread it have been uniformly disastrous. To Russians, democracy arrived in the 1990s with crime, anarchy, and severe economic hardship. Taking office in 1999, Putin reasserted government authority. The stability and prosperity that followed came with significant restrictions on freedom but also made him very popular. Unlike his Soviet predecessors, Putin kept his ambitions local, but the U.S. didn’t see it that way. Though promising otherwise, the U.S. swept former satellites into NATO, reviving Soviet fears of being surrounded by enemies. Despite unedifying American policies in Cuba and Latin America, U.S. officials denounced Russian bullying of its neighbors and supported heavy economic sanctions. Readers outraged at Russian cyberattacks may be surprised to learn that America has long been doing the same. Russian historians emphasize that America was largely founded by slave owners. When they claim that America conducted a genocidal slaughter of Native peoples, Americans often respond that Stalin killed millions—not exactly evidence of moral purity on either side. Weisberg clearly knows his stuff, and while his suggestions on how to fix matters may be too sensible to appeal to patriots from either nation, readers will have no doubt that our current approach is not working.

Perceptive insights into a consistently dysfunctional international relationship.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5417-6862-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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A valuable contribution to our understanding of one of history’s most vital figures.


An epistolary memoir of Nelson Mandela’s prison years.

From August 1962 to February 1990, Mandela (1918-2013) was imprisoned by the apartheid state of South Africa. During his more than 27 years in prison, the bulk of which he served on the notorious Robben Island prison off the shores of Cape Town, he wrote thousands of letters to family and friends, lawyers and fellow African National Congress members, prison officials, and members of the government. Heavily censored for both content and length, letters from Robben Island and South Africa’s other political prisons did not always reach their intended targets; when they did, the censorship could make them virtually unintelligible. To assemble this vitally important collection, Venter (A Free Mind: Ahmed Kathrada's Notebook from Robben Island, 2006, etc.), a longtime Johannesburg-based editor and journalist, pored through these letters in various public and private archives across South Africa and beyond as well as Mandela’s own notebooks, in which he transcribed versions of these letters. The result is a necessary, intimate portrait of the great leader. The man who emerges is warm and intelligent and a savvy, persuasive, and strategic thinker. During his life, Mandela was a loving husband and father, a devotee of the ANC’s struggle, and capable of interacting with prominent statesmen and the ANC’s rank and file. He was not above flattery or hard-nosed steeliness toward his captors as suited his needs, and he was always yearning for freedom, not only—or even primarily—for himself, but rather for his people, a goal that is the constant theme of this collection and was the consuming vision of his entire time as a prisoner. Venter adds tremendous value with his annotations and introductions to the work as a whole and to the book’s various sections.

A valuable contribution to our understanding of one of history’s most vital figures.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63149-117-7

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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This rewarding literary Baedeker will inspire readers to discover new places.


A modern-day Phileas Fogg circumnavigates the globe in books.

Damrosch, chair of the department of comparative literature at Harvard and founder of its Institute for World Literature, mimics Jules Verne’s ambitious itinerary of world travel from east to west as he delves into 16 geographical groups of five books “that have responded to times of crises and deep memories of trauma,” navigating “our world’s turbulent water with the aid of literature’s map of imaginary times and places.” As he moves along, delving into plots, characters, and themes, and both prose and poetry, over centuries, he creates a vast, fascinating latticework of books within books. He begins in London, with “one of the most local of novels” and “one of the most worldly books ever written,” Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, which depicts a city that “bears more than a passing reference to Conrad’s heart of darkness.” Paris and Krakow are followed by “Venice–Florence,” with the old (Marco Polo, Dante, and Boccaccio) and the modern, Italo Calvino’s “magical, unclassifiable” Invisible Cities. Just like Damrosch’s own book, Calvino’s work views “the modern world through multiple lenses of worlds elsewhere.” Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red is “a vibrant hybrid that re-creates a vanished Ottoman past for present purposes,” while Jokha Alharthi’s Celestial Bodies “portrays life in a fully globalized Oman.” Traveling along at a brisk pace, Damrosch takes us to the Congo, Israel/Palestine, Calcutta and “Shanghai–Beijing,” before arriving in Tokyo, where he examines Japan’s “greatest, and strangest” writer, Yukio Mishima, and the “incommensurabilityof ancient and modern eras, Asian and European traditions, that fuels” his work. Brazil is home to one of the “most worldly of local writers,” Clarice Lispector, whose “remarkable short story collection,” Family Ties, the author admires. In Robert McCloskey’s One Morning in Maine, Damrosch fondly revisits a book he enjoyed as a child. Other writers serving as stops on his international tour include Joyce, Atwood, Voltaire, Rushdie, and Soyinka.

This rewarding literary Baedeker will inspire readers to discover new places.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29988-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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