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Book Reviews

2013

Scourge of the elites Christopher Lasch was a fearless iconoclast who defied left and right labels. Love him or loathe him, you need to grapple with his ideas if you want to understand today’s big political and moral debates. Review of Hope in a Scattering Time: A Life of Christopher Lasch, by Eric Miller. spiked review of books, 1 March 2013.

2012

Re-opening the American mind. Twenty-five years on, a re-read of Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind reveals just how wrong liberals were to hate it, and how wrong conservatives were to claim it as their ideological bible. Review of The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students, 25th Anniversary Edition, by Allan Bloom. spiked review of books, 29 June 2012.

Is America committing ‘superpower suicide’? Yes, claims that America is rotting like the Roman Empire are over the top, but two new books swing too far in the other direction. Review of The World America Made, by Robert Kagan; and Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power, by Zbigniew Brzezinski. spiked review of books, 13 April 2012.

The corruption of American politics. From Occupy to the Tea Party, the obsession with corruption is far more damaging to democracy than politicians' alleged shady dealings. Review of Throw Them All Out: How Politicians and Their Friends Get Rich off Insider Stock Tips, Land Deals, and Cronyism That Would Send the Rest of Us to Prison, by Peter Schweizer; and Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress - and a Plan to Stop It, by Lawrence Lessig.  spiked review of books, 3 February 2012.

2011

Blaming all the president’s men. Journalist Ron Suskind's scintillating account of chaos and dissent in Obama's White House would be better if he had shaken off his teenage habit of blaming everything on Wall Street. Review of Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President, by Ron Suskind. spiked review of books, 23 December 2011.

Reason versus emotion? It’s a false dichotomy. With its elevation of intuition over reason and the unconscious mind over rational thought, David Brooks’ new book is an explicit attack on Enlightenment values. It’s time we defended rationalism and passion.Review of The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, by David Brooks. spiked review of books, 1 April 2011.

2010

This is a crisis of the state as well as the market. Some good books were written in the immediate aftermath of the financial crash in 2008 and 2009 - but those authors who spent more time reflecting before writing offer us the best insights. Review of The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis; All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis, by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera; Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance, by Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm; and Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy, by Raghuram Rajan. spiked review of books, 29 December 2010.

A liberal contempt for the land of the free. For all the praise heaped on Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel Freedom, it actually reveals the people-hating, anti-freedom essence of the modern liberal mindset. Review of Freedom: A Novel, by Jonathan Franzen. spiked review of books, 26 November 2010.

Why more really is more. For centuries, economic growth and mass prosperity were understood to be highly desirable, yet today these social objectives are under siege. Daniel Ben-Ami’s new book is a clarion call to begin a counter-offensive. Review of Ferraris for All: In Defence of Economic Progress, by Daniel Ben-Ami.  spiked review of books, 25 June 2010.

The unreliability of memory. In his latest novel, the mostly hopeful story of a dying man trying to make sense of his life, Paul Auster ditches his usual formalism in favour of creating engaging characters. Review of Invisible, by Paul Auster. spiked review of books, 28 May 2010.

A deserter from the battle of ideas. In his new book, heavyweight economist Joseph Stiglitz imagines he is making a profound contribution to the debate about the recession. In truth he offers only shallow and rehashed arguments. Review of Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy, by Joseph Stiglitz. spiked review of books, 26 February 2010.

Juicy politico-porn that also reveals much about America. It’s not surprising that Game Change became such a speedy bestseller and is the talk of America – its revelations about what happened behind the scenes in the 2008 presidential race are toe-curlingly fascinating. Review of Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. spiked review of books, 31 January 2010.

2009

The inside story of America’s economic ‘firefighters’. Andrew Ross Sorkin entertainingly describes the dithering and panic at the heart of the US financial system as the 2008 banking crisis unfolded, but is too generous to those who allowed it to happen in the first place. Review of Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System from Crisis – and Themselves, by Andrew Ross Sorkin. spiked review of books, 30 December 2009.

Whatever happened to the Obama ‘movement’? The Obama for President campaign excited millions, enthused many first-time voters, and inspired youthful door-to-door campaigning. But it died on the day Obama was elected. Review of The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory, by David Plouffe. spiked review of books, 29 November 2009.

China and America: the economic Odd Couple. Stephen Roach provides some useful, counterintuitive insights into the economic relationship between America and China, but too often uses the term ‘global imbalance’ as a euphemism for ‘US decline’. Review of Stephen Roach on the Next Asia: Opportunities and Challenges for a New Globalization, by Stephen Roach. spiked review of books, 28 October 2009.

Keynes to the rescue?. Robert Skidelsky's latest book on Keynes gives a clear and concise account of the current economic crisis, but its faith in Keynes as the 'master' of economic debate is seriously misplaced. Review of Keynes: The Return of the Master, by Robert Skidelsky. spiked review of books, 27 September 2009.

In defence of A-Rod. Yankees fan Sean Collins is not impressed by a book which asserts – but never proves – that Alex Rodriguez is a self-absorbed, high-maintenance, long-time drug-taker. When did sports writers get so moralistic? Review of A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez, by Selena Roberts. spiked review of books, 31 July 2009.

Do we need a new ‘New Deal’?. Whatever conventional wisdom tells us, it isn’t true that Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal brought the Great Depression of the 1930s to an end. However, today’s leaders could learn a thing or two from FDR’s ambitious scope (second part of essay on Great Depression and New Deal). Review of The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, by Amity Shlaes; Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, by HW Brands;  The Great Depression and the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction, by Eric Rauchway. spiked review of books, 24 May 2009.

The ‘credit crunch’: another Great Depression?. In the first part of his essay on the 1930s and today, Sean Collins puts the case for going beyond Keynesianism and monetarism and the obsession with finance to look at the deeper structural problems of capitalism. Review of The Great Depression and the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction, by Eric Rauchway; The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, by John Maynard Keynes; Great Depressions of the Twentieth Century, edited by Timothy J Kehoe and Edward C Prescott; The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and the New Deal, by Robert P Murphy; The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008, by Paul Krugman. spiked review of books, 23 April 2009.

The Reagan factor in American politics. An insightful new book puts Ronald Reagan in a proper historic perspective, but it overplays the strength of his political ideology and his role in creating a new world order. Review of The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008, by Sean Wilentz. spiked review of books, 22 March 2009.

From Nixonland to Obamaland. A thorough and absorbing account of how Richard Nixon took advantage of shifting political dynamics in the 1960s sheds new light on that era, and also on American politics today. Review of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, by Rick Perlstein. spiked review of books, 21 February 2009.

The boys in the bubble. Blaming selfish bankers, bridge-playing CEOs and greedy consumers for the financial crisis might provide economic commentators with a fix of moralistic self-satisfaction. But it means overlooking the larger systemic forces at work. Review of Panic: the Story of Modern Financial Insanity, edited by Michael Lewis. spiked review of books, 30 January 2009.

2008

The war on terror: a nasty, panicky failure. Jane Mayer provides a biting critique of the ham-fisted reaction to 9/11. But an effective opposition to the war on terror needs to criticise every aspect of Bush’s policy, not only the most unsavoury ones. Review of The Dark Side, by Jane Mayer. spiked review of books, 20 November 2008.

John McCain: the myth, the maverick, the man. From his therapeutic recollections of wartime suffering to his anti-ideological political campaigning, the ascendancy of John McCain reveals much about the state of American politics. Review of McCain: The Myth of a Maverick, by Matt Welch. spiked review of books, 24 October 2008.

Ideological inbreeding. A fascinating new book argues that Americans are forming separatist ‘lifestyle tribes’, cut-off pockets of like-mindedness within towns and cities. How did this happen – and how can it be challenged? Review of The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart, by Bob Bishop and Robert G Cushing. spiked review of books, 25 July 2008.

The truth about our post-American world. Fareed Zakaria, author of the hot political book of the moment, is like a weather vane for America’s foreign policy establishment: his own twists and turns expose the deep disarray running through elite circles in the US. Review of The Post-American World, by Fareed Zakaria. spiked review of books, 27 June 2008.

Obama: a man of no substance. He launched his political career in 1995 with a candid memoir, and kickstarted his presidential bid with a ‘political treatise’ stuffed with embarrassing personal anecdotes. Obama takes the politics of personality to a new low. Review of Dreams of My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance and The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama. spiked review of books, 30 May 2008.

Nothing that is human is alien to Price. In Lush Life, Richard Price - one of the co-writers of the brilliant TV series The Wire - has written a truly humanistic novel which captures the essence of life and longing in Lower East Side New York. Review of Lush Life, by Richard Price. spiked review of books, 25 April 2008.

The hole at the heart of the Democratic Party. Billionaire funders demanding cabinet jobs, clueless bloggers advising party bigwigs… the hollowed-out, ill-disciplined Democratic Party looks set to be overrun by opportunistic gatecrashers. Review of The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics, by Matt Bai. spiked review of books, 28 March 2008.

Blood is thicker than Oil!. Paul Thomas Anderson’s sweeping, grimy, brutal epic There Will Be Blood was ‘inspired’ by Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil!. But it strips out and burns off the novel’s humour, humanity and socialist shenanigans. Review of Oil!, by Upton Sinclair; There Will Be Blood, a film by Paul Thomas Anderson. spiked review of books, 29 February 2008.

Is ‘hyperpartisanship’ paralysing American politics?. It is not a clash of ideologies but rather an empty bickering over nothing of much substance that makes the presidential campaign seem so shrill and divided. Review of The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America, by Ronald Brownstein; The Conscience of a Liberal, by Paul Krugman. spiked review of books, 25 January 2008.

2007

Seeing through the dogma of ‘transparency’. Learning more about what goes on behind closed doors won't solve the social and political problems that face us. In fact, the obsession with disclosure only reinforces distrust in society. Review of The Right to Know: Transparency for an Open World, edited by Ann Florini; Full Disclosure: The Perils and Promise of Transparency, by Archon Fung, Mary Graham and David Weil. spiked review of books, 30 November 2007.

PC in the dock. Why did so many leap to the conclusion that white lacrosse players at Duke University must have been guilty of gang-raping a black woman? This disturbing book reveals how political correctness led to a disastrous rush to judgement. Review of Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case, by Stuart Taylor Jr and KC Johnson. spiked review of books, 26 October 2007.

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