A maddening, essential study in misinformation, jingoism, bad intelligence, and other hallmarks of the recent American past.

ON THAT DAY

THE DEFINITIVE TIMELINE OF 9/11

A damning account of the federal government’s response to 9/11 and the two-decade war that ensued.

National security expert and commentator Arkin works from a vast, meticulously assembled, million-word dossier he has assembled on the 9/11 attackers and from the government record to deliver a chronicle that reveals several essential institutional breakdowns. One was the failure to honor “continuity of government” regulations that require those in the constitutional succession to the presidency to travel to safe locations in the event of attack. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert complied while, “when the condition presented itself for the government to take action to increase its survival, leaders brushed the apparatus aside.” Another failure was to communicate effectively with both the nation’s allies and Russia. American military movements following 9/11 were so sudden and inexplicable that Russia interpreted them as signaling the outbreak of war between the superpowers. Meanwhile, Arkin notes, Donald Rumsfeld scribbled a revealing note just hours after the attacks: “Best info fast. Judge whether good enough to hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time. Not only UBL [Osama bin Laden]. Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” Clearly, then, the Bush administration was looking for a pretext to go to war with Iraq. The war that ensued, under the larger rubric of the war on terror, was undeclared. Even the rules of engagement on the day of the attack and its aftermath were ambiguous and variously interpreted—though Arkin reveals that it was generally understood that U.S. military aircraft were free to fire on civilian airliners suspected of posing threats. Whatever the case, Arkin writes in this relentlessly revealing narrative, 9/11 ushered in a war that has not stopped since, “evidence of the overreaction of a frustrated and humiliated Washington.” Nothing has improved in the years since, and the author clearly shows how the government’s failures on 9/11 were only recapitulated with Covid-19 as an exercise in feckless action.

A maddening, essential study in misinformation, jingoism, bad intelligence, and other hallmarks of the recent American past.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5417-0106-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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A cogent overview of the court’s crucial role, the application of which is sure to be discussed among scholars.

THE AUTHORITY OF THE COURT AND THE PERIL OF POLITICS

Why the Supreme Court deserves the public’s trust.

Based on his 2021 lecture at Harvard Law School, Supreme Court Justice Breyer offers a selected history of court cases, a defense of judicial impartiality, and recommendations for promoting the public’s respect for and acceptance of the role of the judiciary in the future. The author regrets that many Americans see the justices as “unelected political officials or ‘junior varsity’ politicians themselves, rather than jurists,” asserting that “nearly all” justices apply “the basic same interpretive tools” to decide a case: “They will consider the statute’s text, its history, relevant legal tradition, precedents, the statute’s purposes (or the values that underlie it), and the relevant consequences.” Although Breyer maintains that all try to avoid the influence of ideology or political philosophy, he acknowledges that suggesting “a total and clean divorce between the Court and politics is not quite right either,” since a justice’s background, education, and experiences surely affect their views, especially when considering the consequences of a decision. The judicial process, Breyer explains, begins as a conference held once or twice each week where substantive discussion leads to preliminary conclusions. Sometimes, in order to find a majority, the court will take a minimalist perspective, allowing those who differ “on the broader legal questions to come together in answering narrower ones.” Noting that, in 2016, only 1 in 4 Americans could name the three branches of federal government, Breyer suggests a revival of civics education in schools so that students can learn how government works and what the rule of law is. He believes that confidence in government will result from citizens’ participation in public life: by voting, taking part in local governance such as school boards, and resolving their differences through argument, debate, cooperation, and compromise, all of which are “the embodiment of the democratic ideal.”

A cogent overview of the court’s crucial role, the application of which is sure to be discussed among scholars.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-674-26936-1

Page Count: 104

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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