An essential examination of what democracy is and can be, how it can be abused or strengthened, and how we can move forward.

DEMOCRACY RULES

An introduction to democracy as a concept, taking readers through its origin, processes, and components.

Princeton social sciences professor Müller begins by stressing that his latest book—after What Is Populism? (2016)—“is not a political manual” and that, despite significant setbacks, “democracy does still rule—in the sense that plenty of people around the globe view it as deeply desirable.” In this fascinating, readable work, the author helps readers understand exactly how democracy is meant to work. Meticulously researched and clearly spelled out, the narrative demonstrates what democracy is and isn’t, and Müller also includes a coda entitled “Five Reasons for Democratic Hope (Not Optimism).” Each section explores a specific aspect of democracy, including representation, governance, infrastructure, disobedience, borders, and others. The author reminds us that “we are all in favor of learning from history, but we implicitly assume that only good people learn from it,” and he emphasizes that anti-democratic governments work hard to look democratic on the surface. If we seek to understand democracy, we must also acknowledge the lure and strategies of both populism and authoritarianism. “Populism is not uniquely responsible for polarization,” writes the author, “but it’s important to understand that populists’ key strategy simply is polarization.” Throughout the book, Müller provides historical context and many examples of when democratic principles are undermined or ignored. While “parties and media provide the essential infrastructure of democracy,” Müller shows why it’s crucial that they are not only autonomous, but accessible to every citizen, and he also delves into the pitfalls of social media. For such an all-encompassing, often messy, and contentious subject, the author maintains a concise, consistently informative narrative that explains key terms and theoretical frameworks in a way that should engage a wide audience.

An essential examination of what democracy is and can be, how it can be abused or strengthened, and how we can move forward.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-13647-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

THE COMFORT BOOK

Bestselling author Haig offers a book’s worth of apothegms to serve as guides to issues ranging from disquietude to self-acceptance.

Like many collections of this sort—terse snippets of advice, from the everyday to the cosmic—some parts will hit home with surprising insight, some will feel like old hat, and others will come across as disposable or incomprehensible. Years ago, Haig experienced an extended period of suicidal depression, so he comes at many of these topics—pain, hope, self-worth, contentment—from a hard-won perspective. This makes some of the material worthy of a second look, even when it feels runic or contrary to experience. The author’s words are instigations, hopeful first steps toward illumination. Most chapters are only a few sentences long, the longest running for three pages. Much is left unsaid and left up to readers to dissect. On being lost, Haig recounts an episode with his father when they got turned around in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was correct, a bit of wisdom Haig turned to during his depression when he focused on moving forward: “It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.” Many aphorisms sound right, if hardly groundbreaking—e.g., a quick route to happiness is making someone else happy; “No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having space you need to live”; “External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our mind.” Haig’s fans may enjoy this one, but others should take a pass.

A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313666-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Life

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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