Media Monday -

We're heading into one of the most profligate and exciting seasons in publishing, when good fiction and nonfiction start coming out at such a swift pace that there are bound to be surprises. Hopefully, there are a few surprises for you in here (and pleasant ones). I know there were for me...


The New York Times

  • A lot of people think America is in decline, and if we don't do something about it soon, it will be too late. The books have arrived like waves of portentous locusts, and this Sunday the New York Times pointed out two new ones, "helpfully approaching the subject from left and right, as if to demonstrate declinism’s bipartisan credentials." The books in question are Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power by Zbigniew Brzezinski and The World America Made by Robert Kagan. Both men are "big hitters in the geopolitics genre," but they originate from opposite political poles (Kagan under Reagan, Brzezinski under Carter)-- so it should come as no surprise that they disagree on the relative importance of subjects like the Iraq War, capitalism, and global warming. "And yet," reviewer Jonathan Freedland points out, "the great surprise is how much they agree with each other, especially on what matters. They both insist that reports of America’s decline are exaggerated. Both note that the United States still accounts for a quarter of the world’s gross domestic product, a proportion that has held steady 41OL-C12FsL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_for more than 40 years. Both note America’s military strength, with a budget greater than that of all its rivals combined. As Brzezinski puts it, on every measure 'America is still peerless.'" So if you're tired of hearing about what a terrible place we live in, pick up one of these books (most likely the one that leans in the same direction as your own politics) and read one of these antidotes to fatalism. As Freedland writes, "American decline is not preordained, but neither is the status quo. If Americans want to remain on top, they will have to fight for that position, making some painful changes in the process (including, Brzezinski says, to a dysfunctional, paralyzed political system). But it’s worth it, chiefly because the current international order — more or less stable and free from world war for seven decades — will not maintain itself. Given what else is out there, the world still needs America."


  • Related but reviewed separately by the Times: Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent by Edward Luce. In his review, Jonathan Rauch offers an alternative title: Time to Start Drinking.


  • The New York Times reviews Edward O. Wilson's 27th book The Social Conquest of Earth. Jennifer Schuessler's piece is more about the distinguished scientist than it about the book he's written-- nevertheless, she points us toward the controversy surrounding the book. Wilson, the man who was once a leading proponent of "kin selection," which he sought to prove in his widely-celebrated book Sociobiology, appears to have abandoned much of his previous beliefs in support of "group selection," which he says explains the foundations of human activity, particularly altruism. Got it? Schuessler explains the hypothesis best when she writes, "the tendency toward cooperation and collaboration that has powered our spectacular success as a species is explained not by kin selection — in which evolution favors the genes of individuals who sacrifice themselves for the sake of relatives — but by group selection, the tendency of evolution to favor groups that work together altruistically, beyond what might be predicted by simple genetic relatedness."


  • Miranda Seymour reviews Thomas Penn's The Winter King, which she describes as an "engrossing and finely written book." The novel begins with Henry VII, who built the wealth of the Tudor throne, and ends with his son, Henry VIII, who managed to drain away much of that wealth. Seymour writes that, "While Penn’s portrait of the king himself (Henry VII) conjures up a figure as compellingly unpleasant as a compound of Hannibal Lecter and Bernard Madoff, the strength of this outstanding book lies in his ability to breathe life into the sorts of ceremonious scenes of court life portrayed in the books of hours belonging to Henry’s great rivals on the Continent."

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Comments (1)

While it is patent that Brzezinski and Kagan tried to stand at opposite ends, it is still clear that they share the same sentiment as to what is in store for America and its people.

Posted by: Rolin | Wednesday May 16, 2012 at 7:17 PM

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