If only our response to the pandemic on other fronts could have been as speedy and potent as this literary one.

A WORLD OUT OF REACH

DISPATCHES FROM LIFE UNDER LOCKDOWN

The difficult spring of 2020, as chronicled by scholars, poets, essayists, and others in the Yale Review.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the pandemic, this collection, put together from the March, April, and May issues of the Review’s "Pandemic Files," seeks to "encapsulate both the inexpressible grief of our moment and the possibility for change and reflection held within it." Editor O'Rourke assembles the work of 36 authors from a wide range of backgrounds. The contributors write not just about the lockdown, but also medicine and epidemiology, the Black Lives Matter protests, the border wall, the contemporary relevance of Thucydides and Boccaccio's Decameron, and how "modern North American history begins with an infectious disease crisis.” Russell Morse, a New York public defender, movingly documents his vigorous but largely doomed attempts to help "the most vulnerable among us," the incarcerated and the homeless. Among the poets represented are Victoria Chang, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Monica Ferrell, and their emotional firepower is matched by a number of strong personal essays. Briallen Hopper, a creative writing professor who lives in Elmhurst, Queens, "a global COVID-19 epicenter" where "the sirens never stop,” mourns the terrible impact of the virus on her blue-collar neighborhood. Rachel Jamison Webster remembers her aunt, who "arrived in my life exactly when I needed her, when I was afraid I would never escape my conventional upbringing." Is it the right time to read this book? One answer is given by recent Yale graduate Meghana Mysore, quoting Yiyun Li—"Rarely does a story start where we wish it had, or end where we wish it would"—and adding her own pertinent thought: "But somewhere in all the chaos is a story, if we are given time to see it." Other contributors include Katie Kitamura, John Fabian Witt, Nell Freudenberger, Randi Hutter Epstein, and Rowan Ricardo Phillips.

If only our response to the pandemic on other fronts could have been as speedy and potent as this literary one.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25735-9

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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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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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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