An urgent and provocative work that deserves the broadest possible audience.

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STAKES IS HIGH

LIFE AFTER THE AMERICAN DREAM

A young Black man surveys the landscape and finds America a poisonous, broken place—but perhaps not irretrievably so.

Toward the end of his second book, Smith asks an arresting question: “Is the potential for the American Dream worth enduring the brutality of American life?” Anyone who has followed the headlines recently knows that life for African Americans is fraught with peril, the American dream ever more distant. This dangerous moment in history, writes the author, is “not an aberration…it is the course this country has always been on.” Exponents of “Afro-pessimism,” such as Frank Wilderson III, have expressed considerable—and well-placed—doubt as to whether things can ever get better, though Smith sees a flicker of hope and closes with guarded optimism: “Imagining where we want to go teaches us how to get there. No one ever said it would be simple, only that it is possible.” Meanwhile, there are the present realities to consider, some of them embodied in the person of Donald Trump, whom Smith considers absolutely the wrong person to be in office, if one who represents a logical point on a continuum of racism and reaction. The right New Yorker for the job, he writes, was Shirley Chisholm, who is coming in for fresh appreciation half a century after her run for office. Even so, “Chisholm was never going to be elected president. Donald Trump was inevitable.” Yet she was a serious candidate, just as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez is serious—though, Smith counsels, what is more important is that the many people out there who are of like mind be encouraged to bring democratic socialism into office. The author is sharply self-aware (“Sometimes, reader, I write ‘you’ when I’m too afraid to admit my own failures”), and he would seem to expect his reader to approach his fine-honed argument with the same seriousness. Doing so is well worth the effort.

An urgent and provocative work that deserves the broadest possible audience.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-56858-873-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Bold Type Books

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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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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