An accomplished idealist leaves us with a slog of a memoir.

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WE CALLED IT A WAR

A lost memoir from the man behind the 1960s War on Poverty, offering a close-up look at its moving parts.

At the time, Shriver was one of John F. Kennedy’s favorite appointees, and he was just beginning to recover from the assassination of a man who filled many roles in his life: boss, friend, brother-in-law. Appreciative of the way Shriver oversaw the Peace Corps, the new president, Lyndon Johnson, gave him a formidable task: Defeat poverty. Thus begins this book, penned some 50 years ago and stashed away in a box. In a narrative edited by attorney Birenbaum, Shriver provides painstaking details of how a hardworking negotiator and administrator charmed Republicans and Southern Democrats and hammered out the many elements of the War on Poverty, the centerpiece of Johnson’s Great Society. It’s easy to admire Shriver while wishing this noble effort had a little more verve. The dramatic episodes, including the Newark and Detroit riots of 1967, are among the shortest in the book—although Shriver uses them adeptly to demonstrate how the urban unrest left both sides of the war debate unhappy: liberals, who felt not enough money had been appropriated; and conservatives, who argued that the rhetoric surrounding the war fomented violence. While it feels unfair to take to task the man behind Head Start, Job Corps, and other significant social and economic programs, the text becomes a tiresome journey that leaves no bureaucratic “i” undotted. The main tension in the book involves the conflict between Shriver’s ideals and the bear trap that would eat Johnson alive: the Vietnam War. Despite this outsized guns-or-butter dilemma, many War on Poverty initiatives outlasted Johnson—and many were dismantled by Reagan. Though there is useful information here for scholars to further analyze, readers looking for a livelier story should try Scott Stossel’s epic biography Sarge (2004).

An accomplished idealist leaves us with a slog of a memoir.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-948122-67-2

Page Count: 348

Publisher: RosettaBooks

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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An essential account of a chaotic administration that, Woodward makes painfully clear, is incapable of governing.

RAGE

That thing in the air that is deadlier than even your “strenuous flus”? Trump knew—and did nothing about it.

The big news from veteran reporter Woodward’s follow-up to Fear has been widely reported: Trump was fully aware at the beginning of 2020 that a pandemic loomed and chose to downplay it, causing an untold number of deaths and crippling the economy. His excuse that he didn’t want to cause a panic doesn’t fly given that he trades in fear and division. The underlying news, however, is that Trump participated in this book, unlike in the first, convinced by Lindsey Graham that Woodward would give him a fair shake. Seventeen interviews with the sitting president inform this book, as well as extensive digging that yields not so much news as confirmation: Trump has survived his ineptitude because the majority of Congressional Republicans go along with the madness because they “had made a political survival decision” to do so—and surrendered their party to him. The narrative often requires reading between the lines. Graham, though a byword for toadyism, often reins Trump in; Jared Kushner emerges as the real power in the West Wing, “highly competent but often shockingly misguided in his assessments”; Trump admires tyrants, longs for their unbridled power, resents the law and those who enforce it, and is quick to betray even his closest advisers; and, of course, Trump is beholden to Putin. Trump occasionally emerges as modestly self-aware, but throughout the narrative, he is in a rage. Though he participated, he said that he suspected this to be “a lousy book.” It’s not—though readers may wish Woodward had aired some of this information earlier, when more could have been done to stem the pandemic. When promoting Fear, the author was asked for his assessment of Trump. His reply: “Let’s hope to God we don’t have a crisis.” Multiple crises later, Woodward concludes, as many observers have, “Trump is the wrong man for the job.”

An essential account of a chaotic administration that, Woodward makes painfully clear, is incapable of governing.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982131-73-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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Fans of Seinfeld will eat this up, and aspiring comics will want to study how he shapes his seemingly effortless humor.

IS THIS ANYTHING?

“All comedians are slightly amazed when anything works.” So writes Seinfeld in this pleasing collection of sketches from across his four-decade career.

Known for his wry, observational humor, Seinfeld has largely avoided profanity and dirty jokes and has kept politics out of the equation. Like other schooled jokesters, perhaps most famously Bob Hope, he keeps a huge library of gags stockpiled, ever fearful of that day when the jokes will run out or the emcee will call you back for another set. “For the most part, it was the people who killed themselves to keep coming up with great new material who were able to keep rising through the many levels,” he recounts of his initiation into the New York stand-up scene. Not all his early material played well. The first piece in this collection, laid out sentence by sentence as if for a teleprompter, is a bit about being left-handed, which comes with negative baggage: “Two left feet. / Left-handed compliment. / Bad ideas are always ‘out of left field.’ / What are we having for dinner? / Leftovers.” He gets better, and quickly, as when he muses on the tininess of airplane bathrooms: “And a little slot for used razor blades. Who is shaving on the plane? And shaving so much, they’re using up razor blades. Is the Wolfman flying in there?” For the most part, the author’s style is built on absurdities: “Why does water ruin leather? / Aren’t cows outside a lot of the time?” It’s also affable, with rare exceptions, as when, taking on a mob boss persona, he threatens a child with breaking the youngster’s Play-Doh creations: “Nothing wrong with sending your child a little Sicilian message once in a while.” One wishes there were more craft notes among the gags, but the ones that are there are both inspiring and gnomic: “Stand-up is about a brief, fleeting moment of human connection.”

Fans of Seinfeld will eat this up, and aspiring comics will want to study how he shapes his seemingly effortless humor.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982112-69-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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