A fluently written celebration of life, punctuated, as always, by death. Worthy of a place alongside Doug Peacock’s Grizzly...

AMERICAN BUFFALO

IN SEARCH OF A LOST ICON

Hunter/conservationist and Outside correspondent Rinella (The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine, 2006) chases the last of the wild buffalo, turning up a fine tale in the process.

Readers inclined to things robust and outdoors will probably enjoy a narrative that begins, “In the past week I’ve become something of a buffalo chip connoisseur.” Granted, it’s no “Call me Ishmael,” but Rinella has his own object of mysterious, somewhat inexplicable quest, having once found at high altitude—9,000 snowy feet—the remains of a bison that he decided, armed with sentiment more than science, was alive on July 4, 1776. Buffalo meat, the author proudly notes, is the “real original American meal,” a fitting repast for such a holiday, and the object of hunters from antiquity until the massive 19th-century kill-off of what General Phil Sheridan called “the Indians’ commissary.” (On that note, Rinella reproduces a photograph of a white hunter standing atop a 30-foot-tall heap of buffalo skulls, which certainly gives one pause to wonder.) Searching for the opportunity to recapitulate that primordial hunt in a new age, Rinella embarks upon a modest quest that takes him, for instance, to the gates of media mogul Ted Turner’s Montana ranch, where “for $4,285 (a $500 savings from last year’s prices) I could hunt a trophy-sized bull inside a fenced enclosure,” about par with the prices at other buffalo ranches. Allowing that there’s nothing particularly ennobling or romantic in gunning down a penned animal, Rinella finally obtains a lottery ticket to hunt in Alaska, yielding a resolution that most certainly will not please PETA cardholders but that conservationists will admire—even as Rinella wrestles with the question, “How can I claim to love the very thing that I worked so hard to kill?”

A fluently written celebration of life, punctuated, as always, by death. Worthy of a place alongside Doug Peacock’s Grizzly Years (1990), Jack Turner’s The Abstract Wild (1996) and other meditations on the red-in-tooth-and-claw side of nature.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-385-52168-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2008

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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