Tamara Draut's argument is that 30-somethings, Gen Xers, have the financial deck stacked against them. Education, the key to the middle class, will dr...moreTamara Draut's argument is that 30-somethings, Gen Xers, have the financial deck stacked against them. Education, the key to the middle class, will drive them into crippling debt. Starting a family will saddle them with medical costs, daycare costs, etc. Buying a house puts them at the mercy of a predatory financial industry (see also student loans). And a serious injury or a cancer diagnosis will very likely drive them into bankruptcy. Basically, unless they're trust fund babies, they're screwed.
I'm mostly in agreement with Draut on all of this. The problem with the book is a lot of other people have written similar books. If you've read much of anything by Paul Krugman, et al, none of Draut's contentions will seem particularly shocking. Draut's methodology is to outline the problems facing young adults and support these with a series of anecdotes about the financial hardships her subjects face as a result of trying to achieve the American dream. While the stories are compelling, the book is weak on statistics or other objective evidence.
Draut limits her examination to middle and working class in their 30s, people finished with college and maybe grad school and ready to embark on adult lives. She does not deal with the dilemmas of the poor, nor does she look at the way these same problems are faced by many people in middle age. She justifies not examining the poor as that would have made her book unwieldy. Also, rightly, she argues that those in poverty face a completely different set of problems.
This book came out prior to the economic crisis that began in 2008. The financial crisis, the housing crisis, the recession, the pernicious concentration of wealth, and the growing lack of opportunity for most Americans have certainly affected 30-somethings, but people in the next age cohorts have been even harder hit. Unemployment has hit men in their 50s as hard as 20-something liberal arts grads. Careers have foundered a decade out from retirement. Retirement savings have evaporated. The suicide rate amongst baby boom-era men has gone up.
Draut can't be faulted for not seeing what was coming a few years out from her book's publication date. However, the roots of the dilemma of the middle class 50-somethings were developing well before 2008. If Draut had looked outside of the box to which she limited her study, she might have had something remarkable.(less)
Readers of this book probably fall into two main groups. One group is made up of those who are already in agreement with its argument: that the second...moreReaders of this book probably fall into two main groups. One group is made up of those who are already in agreement with its argument: that the second Bush administration pushed the country into a war based on faulty intelligence that was, itself, based on lies. Further, key members of that administration came into office already determined to invade Iraq. The other group of readers will throw the book aside in disgust because they still believe the invasion of Iraq was a necessary decision.
At the time, I didn't really believe the administration's shifting rationales for war, or for its timing. But I did think that the overthrow of Saddam was desirable. While I still think Saddam's overthrow was, on balance, a good thing, I recognize that it brought about several undesirable outcomes - instability, a strengthening of Iran's position, and ironically an erosion of rights for sectors of Iraqi society (women, homosexuals, ethnic and religious minorities). I also see the Iraq war as one of the biggest blunders of American foreign policy since Vietnam, marked by corruption and incompetence.
The conduct of the war is not the concern of this book, however; instead, Michael Isikoff focuses on the run-up to the war. He looks at the decision-making process, the desire for war on the part of many officials, the use of 9-11 to manipulate public opinion and highly skewed intelligence to link Saddam to al-Qaeda. Isikoff also examines the way the news media was manipulated by the administration and the way the media allowed itself, even eagerly became a mouthpiece for administration propaganda.
This is an exhaustive account, well-argued and well-written. It's only problem is that the impact has dulled a bit over time. (less)
If you follow Krugman at all, nothing in this book will be especially new. It lays out Krugman's case for a Keynesian approach to economic stimulus, a...moreIf you follow Krugman at all, nothing in this book will be especially new. It lays out Krugman's case for a Keynesian approach to economic stimulus, as well as his argument that the emphasis on austerity amongst political decision-makers is guaranteed to stagnate the economy and make people's lives worse. The book is a readable economic and political argument from a Nobel-winning economist.(less)
Back when I still thought of myself as a (moderate) Republican, I was for Feingold. Like many Wisconsinites, I found him to be an unfortunately rare t...moreBack when I still thought of myself as a (moderate) Republican, I was for Feingold. Like many Wisconsinites, I found him to be an unfortunately rare type of politician who was forthcoming, morally brave, and principled. I like Russ Feinfold, so I enjoyed reading this book. That said, it is a book with flaws.
Pretty quickly, it's apparent that this is more a work of political promotion than an objective biography. The author is obviously a fan and the Feinfold presented in this book is firmly in the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington mode. We hear about the young Feingold in high school, popular with students and teachers alike, a young Wisconsin progressive, a true son of the Heartland. This is all true, as far as it goes, but it is presented in breathless tone as though Feinfold's upbringing was somehow unique in its goodness, even though none of this seems beyond the experience of any above-average young man.
The book hits its stride when it gets into Feinfold's political life, which was fairly remarkable.
The first part of David M. Kennedy's Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, from the Oxford U.S. history series. Th...moreThe first part of David M. Kennedy's Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, from the Oxford U.S. history series. The advantage of splitting the book into two volumes for the author and publisher is that they get to sell two books instead of one. For the reader, it's just easier to lug around than the original tome.(less)
A detailed overview of labor history in the United States. Good information, but I found it a little slow going at times. Still, given the lack of kno...moreA detailed overview of labor history in the United States. Good information, but I found it a little slow going at times. Still, given the lack of knowledge most people have on the subject, it's probably a must-read for anyone desiring a rounded knowledge of U.S. history.(less)
A memoir and extended essay on the main themes of his writing life, this is a good reminder of just how important Christopher Hitchens was to intellec...moreA memoir and extended essay on the main themes of his writing life, this is a good reminder of just how important Christopher Hitchens was to intellectual life, both in the States and in Britain. I first read this shortly prior to the author's death and re-read it after. It only improved on the second reading.
As much as anything else, this is a story of Hitchens's ideological development: the role his parents' lives played in it, the experience of the Trotskyist Left of the 1960s, the influence of the various Amises (Martin, Kingsley), Robert Conquest's anti-Stalinism, and so on. Although a man of the Left, Hitchens doesn't fit comfortably in with some of his ideological peers. He supported both Thatcher's Falklands war and the second Bush administration's invasion of Iraq, which made him anathema to some of his erstwhile friends. However, one can argue that these positions were taken in absolute consistency with his principles. In both cases he was supporting conflicts against brutal military dictatorships. Although his insistence on the WMD rationale for the Iraqi war is a little cringeworthy, his support of Kurdish rights is commendable.
Hitchens was disturbed by the reflexively anti-Western stance prevalent within the post-1960s Left. He championed the Western literary and artistic canons, though not uncritically, as can be seen in his writings on the King James Bible. Hitchens extolled the King James translation for its literary merit, even as he argued that "religion ruins everything."
Strangely (but perhaps not unsurprisingly in the context of George W. Bush's "with us or agin' us" America), Hitchens was cast as a conservative. He was certainly proud of his US citizenship and saw America as an expression of Western ideals, to the point that he advocated a sort of American exceptionalism. That said, Hitchens was not an uncritical apologist. Though he supported Bush's toppling of Saddam Hussein, he accused the Bush administration of criminal incompetence. He excoriated the US role in overthrowing the democratic socialist Allende government and advocated that Henry Kissinger be indicted for war crimes.
One of the photos included in the book shows a smiling Hitchens at the tomb of Karl Marx, "the great man." So much for Hitchens the conservative. All of this labeling and mislabeling speaks to the looseness over terms in American political discourse, where liberalism and socialism are conflated and everything is subjected to Nazi analogies. Hitchens was an antidote to this sloppiness. Through his writings and in his life, Hitchens stood as an example of conceptual complexity and intellectual nuance. What's more, the man who emerges from this book is one of good humor and human compassion.(less)
This book promised so much, but except for a re-hash of the decision-making by the first Bush administration on Iraq, it doesn't deliver on much of th...moreThis book promised so much, but except for a re-hash of the decision-making by the first Bush administration on Iraq, it doesn't deliver on much of that promise. There was very little in this book that I didn't already know.
It feels like the author had a lot of interview material from the mid-1990s, and he just tricked it up with a little recent material. There is very little in the way of new insight on the second war in Iraq. The author makes a point, in that many of the same officials served in both Bush administrations and that the change in their thinking on whether to depose Saddam Hussein is important. It's just that there is relatively little material on the decision-making surrounding the second invasion. (less)
Jonathan Alter details the actions taken by the Obama administration through the year 2009. It is a detailed but readable account, in the style of sol...moreJonathan Alter details the actions taken by the Obama administration through the year 2009. It is a detailed but readable account, in the style of solid, long-form journalism. Alter does a good job of explaining the dynamics and personalities that shaped decisions and politics surrounding the financial and auto bailouts, the stimulus, and, most centrally, the push to pass healthcare reform.
Sometimes, the minutiae of policy-making can be a bit of a slog. What is more interesting, perhaps, are accounts of the personalities involved. Alter's Obama comes across as a little sphinx-like, hard to get a read on, which is probably his main strength as a political player (sharply-honed intellect, aside).
One of the more colorful people in the book is chief-of-staff, later Chicago mayor, Rahm Emmanuel. The Rahm of this book is very much in the mold of a quasi-Machiavellian, hard-nosed realist. Behind the scenes, Emmanuel played a central role in the way "Obamacare" took shape. Anyone who bewails the loss of the public option has Rahm to blame. (Emmanuel would counter that the public option was never going to be passed and insisting on it would sink the legislation. Then he would flip you off.)
Overall, this is an important account of a crucial period in our history. Any fair analysis of the situation compels one to admit that the Obama administration took office at a time when it was very likely that the financial system was about to implode and the largest part of the US manufacturing sector was about to fail. Whatever the shortcomings of their decision-making, and there is much to criticize, one has to admit that the Obama team pulled off some fairly impressive crisis management. When compared with the panicked reactions of the previous Bush administration, the Obama team was a picture of institutional competence.
As with most inspirational leaders, Obama's support has suffered when inspiration has come up against the needs of practical governance. Alter's account shows how idealism succumbed to hard reality and the ways in which decisions, taken in a context of crisis and necessity, would set up resistance on the right and erosion of support on the left. The cruel irony of Obama's first year is that his successes fueled his party's defeats in the 2010 elections (and perhaps, from the hindsight of 2013, set up his reelection).(less)
This was a little disappointing. A little too dry, a little too given to long lists of now little-known political figures who supported this or that p...moreThis was a little disappointing. A little too dry, a little too given to long lists of now little-known political figures who supported this or that policy plank and/or political tactic.
Gable's book is a straightforward account of the National Progressive Party's presidential campaign of 1912. Informative, but dry. I've been reading history for so long that I'm coming to expect a little dash and verve in the writing, especially if Theodore Roosevelt is involved. This was decent history, but not very good reading.(less)