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No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need

Naomi Klein. Haymarket, $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-60846-890-4

Journalist and activist Klein (This Changes Everything) turns to lessons from her previous books as well as more recent work from fellow journalists and activists as she lays out a blueprint for combating Trumpism and the corporatist policies of his predecessors that made his rise possible. Trump, she writes, “is less an aberration than a logical conclusion” of the previous half-century’s obsession with free-market ideology. Since the 1970s, war, economic shifts, and extreme weather events have been exploited to implement the economic “shock tactics” that underpin neoliberal austerity regimes. These crises are deeply intertwined and “can only be dealt with through collective action,” Klein posits. She also outlines the history of American “racial capitalism” and the “divide-and-terrorize” political strategies that have maintained it to the present day. To counter this, she writes, movements must be prepared to take power and govern together towards multifaceted ends, as “no one movement can win on its own.” Urging social movements to crystallize the yes for which they’re fighting (as opposed to simply resisting), Klein cites the Leap Manifesto in Canada and the Vision for Black Lives in the U.S. as examples of community-developed documents for building a new world. With a genuine sense of hope, Klein illuminates paths to collectively forge an ecologically sound, anticapitalist order. (June)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech

Franklin Foer. Penguin Press, $27 (250p) ISBN 978-1-101-98111-5

Former New Republic editor Foer (How Soccer Explains the World) constructs a scathing critique of tech culture and breaks down the collective history and impact of giant corporations such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Silicon Valley companies “have eroded the integrity of institutions—media, publishing—that supply the intellectual material that provokes thought and guides democracy,” Foer states in his introduction, already showing a pointed antipathy toward his subject. He traces the origins of big tech monopolies back to the 1960s and specifically to the “crown prince of hippiedom,” Stewart Brand, who spread the vision of a “world healed by technology, brought together into a peaceful model of collaboration” with his publication of The Whole Earth Catalog (once described by Steve Jobs as “the bible” of his generation). Foer argues that Brand's vision is the basis for Silicon Valley's corporate culture, where monopoly is seen as part of the natural order (it is telling that startups no longer aspire to displace giants such as Facebook or Google but rather to be acquired by them). The result is of extraordinary detriment to American culture, writes Foer, who blames the collapsing value of knowledge, on the absent-minded entrepreneurs leading Amazon, Facebook, and Google. He goes on to argue that Google’s evolving mission statement as “a company with ever-expanding boundaries,” Facebook’s focus on increasingly complex algorithms, and Amazon’s growing stranglehold on commerce have played a role in “the catastrophic collapse of the news business and the degradation of American civic culture.” Foer is neither subtle nor impartial (he notes early on his falling out with Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes, who bought the New Republic in 2012), and this is more a call to arms than a wake-up call. It’s a rousing—though oversimplified—spin on the Silicon Valley origin story and the cultural impact of technology. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Unstoppable: My Life So Far

Maria Sharapova. FSG/Crichton, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-27979-0

In this insightful memoir, 30-year-old tennis star Sharapova details her life from her earliest memories to the present day. Her father, Yuri, whisked six-year-old Maria from Russia to Florida because of her tennis skills, at tennis star Martina Navratilova’s suggestion: “Your daughter can play; you need to get her out of the country to a place where she can develop her game.” What ensued for Maria was a life lived on tennis courts—either playing in tournaments or toiling in academies—partially funded by whatever work Yuri could find. Maria excelled quickly, though at the cost of a typical childhood. After winning Wimbledon at 17, she entered another isolated sphere, one of celebrity and its trappings. “In short,” she writes, “winning fucks you up.” She is similarly blunt when discussing how to lose and her rivalry with Serena Williams, whom Sharapova discovered bawling after Sharapova beat her at Wimbledon in 2004 (“I think she hated me for seeing her at her lowest moment”). Sharapova’s eloquent self-awareness provides a rare glimpse into the disorienting push and pull of a famous athlete’s life. “I know you want us to love this game—us loving it makes it more fun to watch,” she writes. “But we don’t love it. And we don’t hate it. It just is, and always has been.” 16 pages of full-color photos. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Shopping Mall

Matthew Newton. Bloomsbury, $14.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-5013-1482-7

Debut author Newton’s uneven entry in Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series, which are billed as “short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things,” provides some interesting insights into American culture, but mostly feels like a missed opportunity. Reading more like an overlong personal essay than a cohesive narrative, the book juxtaposes the history of the American shopping center, which Newton consistently makes interesting, against his own personal history, which he does not. Newton begins promisingly with a pilgrimage to the first indoor mall, Southdale Center in Edina, Minn., but quickly loses focus, indulging in stories of his teenage years that feel simultaneously too specific to be relatable and too generic to be resonant. The best passages are those about the actual idea of the mall, designed by figures such as the Viennese Victor Gruen as a new sort of civic space that could replace the lost town square in a post-WWII America reshaped by the rise of suburbia. Newton wraps up with evocative reflections on instances of violence in shopping malls and questions about a possible renewal for these spaces, the popularity of which has flagged since their heyday nearly 30 years ago. To put it into the vernacular, this book about the mall is at its best when it’s, like, totally about the mall. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Riviera Set: Glitz, Glamour, and the Hidden World of High Society

Mary S. Lovell. Pegasus, $27.95 (448p) ISBN 978-1-68177-515-9

The Château de l’Horizon served as a social hub on the French Riviera between the 1920s and ’60s, and here Lovell (The Churchills: In Love and War) presents a textured and meticulously researched history of a scintillating era on the Mediterranean coast. The author deftly juggles a vast array of characters, most notably the château’s indomitable visionary and hostess nonpareil, Maxine Elliott, and her close friend Winston Churchill, whose rejuvenating visits, as Lowell reveals, were vital to his reemergence onto the political stage on the eve of World War II. The first quarter of the book serves as a prechâteau biography of Elliott, highlighting the allure of her beloved property as a site for the rich and royal to revel in the architecture, fashion, and decor. Lovell illustrates that Elliott’s guests were well-known around the world, and their dalliances at the château were both historically relevant and highly entertaining. Lovell bridges the Edwardian age and postwar Europe, as cultural and political shifts brought more Americans and money usurped style as the most valuable currency in the region. Photos. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Murder in Music City: Corruption, Scandal and the Framing of an Innocent Man

Michael Bishop. Prometheus Books, $18 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-63388-345-1

Bishop, a sales executive, proves a surprisingly effective amateur sleuth in this gripping examination of a 1964 slaying in Nashville that was apparently solved at the time. In 1997, after agreeing to help a friend research a history of major crimes committed in that city, Bishop found a file on the murder of college student Paula Herring, who was babysitting her younger brother in their home when she was killed, and became fascinated by the case. His review of the public records and interviews with local residents bolstered his suspicions that John Randolph Clarke was wrongfully convicted for the killing. By doggedly following every lead and using a salesman’s skills to gain the trust of the witnesses he interviewed, Bishop uncovers evidence that Clarke was framed, and, in so doing, builds a plausible and chilling theory as to the identity of the actual murderer. His first-person account of the steps he took to ascertain the truth gives the narrative a sense of immediacy. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve

Leonora Chu. Harper, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-236785-3

An American journalist living in Shanghai, Chu enrolls her toddler son in a local school and comes face-to-face with the methods used to achieve the famed excellence of Chinese students: strict discipline including coercion and threats, relentless study, high parental involvement, and a classroom structure that operates on military precision, extras and gifts, Chinese Communist indoctrination, and high-stakes pressure. Concerned about the system to which she has committed her son, Chu begins a personal investigation and confronts, in discussions with Chinese teachers, students, and parents, and with foreigners, the central paradoxes facing China’s traditional culture and booming economy. Attempts by the school’s administrator at integrating a kinder, gentler Western approach to education collide with the Chinese emphasis on test taking and competitiveness, just as the Communist ideal of collectivity confronts the market impulses driving a still-developing country. The lively anecdotes, scenes, and conversations that Chu relates while describing her encounters with the Chinese education system will amuse or appall Western readers, and she outlines a system that, despite its high ideals, creates broad gaps in income and achievement. By the end, the successes of Chu’s son, who demonstrates mathematical ability and self-discipline along with buoyancy, curiosity, and leadership skills, persuade her that, going forward, the global ideal is a blend of Chinese rigor and Western individuality, whatever that might look like. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Letters to Memory

Karen Tei Yamashita. Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $19.95 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-56689-487-6

Novelist Yamashita (I Hotel) explores her family’s experience in a Japanese-American internment camp during WWII using stories, letters, photos, artwork, and other records from her family archive. In five thematically linked sections on poverty, modernity, love, death, and laughter, Yamashita sketches the humiliation, absurdity, and cruelty collectively suffered by her extended family, with special focus on her grandmother Tomi; mother, Asako; and father, John. In one particularly haunting scene she imagines what it was like for her family to frantically pack their house in one day before leaving for the relocation camp. Yamashita positions these stories within larger questions—what is the meaning of evil, justice, war, and forgiveness?—and considers the answers suggested in classics including the Iliad, the Mahabharata, the jataka tales, and King Lear. The immediacy and poignancy of the struggles of Yamashita’s family members are deflated by interposed epistolary conversations with five mythic authors and pseudonymous scholars, who never take shape with the richness, complexity, urgency, or character of Yamashita’s family and friends. Yamashita’s hopscotch approach makes the deeper claim that there is no explanation and no possible reparation for events like slavery, internment, or the bombing of Hiroshima—only the disorienting reality they produce and the legacy of pain, distrust, and shame they leave behind. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Expanding Blaze: How the American Revolution Ignited the World, 1775–1848

Jonathan Israel. Princeton Univ., $39.95 (744p) ISBN 978-0-691-17660-4

Israel (Revolutionary Ideas), professor emeritus of modern history at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, stoutly makes the case that the American Revolution was “of immense consequence for America’s future and for the rest of globe.” Though not a new argument, it has never before been made so fully or with such convincing force. Known for many works on the Enlightenment, Israel here carries onto the American scene his controversial argument that there were two “Enlightenments”: the “moderate” and the “radical.” Only American representatives of the radical one, he argues, fully gave up on traditional religion, mixed government, and superstition in favor of secular representative government and thought. While open to the same criticisms that his moderate-radical dichotomy has long faced, i.e. that it is oversimplistic, Israel’s argument here doesn’t detract from the work’s exhilarating urgency. Nor does it mar Israel’s success in showing the American Revolution’s influence on spurring revolutionary activity in such places as Haiti, Ireland, and Latin America. He follows others in placing American events into their broadest transatlantic context and he puts intellectual currents at the center of his story by arguing against others that the relevance of the American Revolution to world affairs has never ended. Like Israel’s previous books, this bravura, complex, learned interpretation of 75 years of revolutionary history is sure to stir debate. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Devotion

Patti Smith. Yale Univ., $18 (112p) ISBN 978-0-300-21862-6

Musician and author Smith (M Train) tries her hand at that most meta of projects: writing a book about writing. This is no craft manual, however; instead, her slim volume contains a single novella bookended by a pair of personal reflections on the tale’s genesis (she’s inspired to write about a discourse between “a sophisticated, rational man and a precocious, intuitive girl”): among the reflections are her descriptions of a trip to Paris while obsessing over Simone Weil and Soviet deportations; a remembered photograph taken decades before; and wood carvings, seen on a visit to the home Albert Camus, that Camus bought with his Nobel Prize money. The lesson is obvious: that a writer draws on every detail of his or her life for the alchemical, often unconscious process of creation. But seeing the process in action is a profound experience. Smith’s writing in the essays is as beautifully structured as her poetry, so the novella’s mundanity comes as something of a shock: an orphaned young girl with an obsession for ice skating is stalked, groomed, and abused by an older man, and both meet tragic ends. Smith’s writing about her novella is much more thoughtful and captivating than the novella itself. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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