An excellent study, taking a tiny instant of modern history and giving it specific weight, depth and meaning.

IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS

LOVE, TERROR, AND AN AMERICAN FAMILY IN HITLER'S BERLIN

A sometimes improbable but nevertheless true tale of diplomacy and intrigue by bestselling author Larson (Thunderstruck, 2006, etc.).

William E. Dodd, the unlikely hero of the piece, was a historian at the University of Chicago in the early 1930s, tenured and unhappy, increasingly convinced that he was cut out for greater things than proctoring exams. Franklin Roosevelt, then in his second year in office, was meanwhile having trouble filling the ambassadorship in Berlin, where the paramilitary forces of Hitler’s newly installed regime were in the habit of beating up Americans—and, it seems, American doctors in particular, one for the offense of not giving the Nazi salute when an SS parade passed by. Dodd was offered the job, and he accepted; as Larson writes, “Dodd wanted a sinecure…this despite his recognition that serving as a diplomat was not something to which his character was well suited.” It truly was not, but Dodd did yeomanlike work, pressing for American interests while letting it be known that he did not think much of the blustering Nazis—even as, the author writes, he seems to have been somewhat blind to the intensity of anti-Semitism and was casually anti-Semitic himself. More interesting than the scholarly Dodd, whom the Nazis thought of as a musty old man, was his daughter Martha, a beauty of readily apparent sexual appetite, eagerly courted by Nazis and communists alike. The intrigues in which she was caught up give Larson’s tale, already suspenseful, the feel of a John le Carré novel. The only real demerit is that the book goes on a touch too long, though it gives a detailed portrait of a time when the Nazi regime was solidifying into the evil monolith that would go to war with the world only five years later.

An excellent study, taking a tiny instant of modern history and giving it specific weight, depth and meaning.

Pub Date: May 10, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-40884-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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A timely contribution to the discussion of a crucial issue.

THE FIGHT TO VOTE

A history of the right to vote in America.

Since the nation’s founding, many Americans have been uneasy about democracy. Law and policy expert Waldman (The Second Amendment: A Biography, 2014, etc.), president of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, offers a compelling—and disheartening—history of voting in America, from provisions of the Constitution to current debates about voting rights and campaign financing. In the Colonies, only white male property holders could vote and did so in public, by voice. With bribery and intimidation rampant, few made the effort. After the Revolution, many states eliminated property requirements so that men over 21 who had served in the militia could vote. But leaving voting rules to the states disturbed some lawmakers, inciting a clash between those who wanted to restrict voting and those “who sought greater democracy.” That clash fueled future debates about allowing freed slaves, immigrants, and, eventually, women to vote. In 1878, one leading intellectual railed against universal suffrage, fearing rule by “an ignorant proletariat and a half-taught plutocracy.” Voting corruption persisted in the 19th century, when adoption of the secret ballot “made it easier to stuff the ballot box” by adding “as many new votes as proved necessary.” Southern states enacted disenfranchising measures, undermining the 15th Amendment. Waldman traces the campaign for women’s suffrage; the Supreme Court’s dismal record on voting issues (including Citizens United); and the contentious fight to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which “became a touchstone of consensus between Democrats and Republicans” and was reauthorized four times before the Supreme Court “eviscerated it in 2013.” Despite increased access to voting, over the years, turnout has fallen precipitously, and “entrenched groups, fearing change, have…tried to reduce the opportunity for political participation and power.” Waldman urges citizens to find a way to celebrate democracy and reinvigorate political engagement for all.

A timely contribution to the discussion of a crucial issue.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1648-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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