RaveThe New RepublicAl Franken’s political memoir does what so many outsider politicians have failed to do: It demystifies politics while making a surprisingly strong—and surprisingly moving—case on behalf of political engagement. Partly masquerading as a satire of the political memoir (easily the worst genre publishing has to offer), it’s a clear-eyed look at how things work in Washington and, most importantly, how frustrating it is when they don’t. It’s also funny, the surest sign that Franken may actually be a regular person ... Franken’s first campaign is fascinating. It’s about the incredible indignities of running for office, which are only tempered by the connections he makes with voters and the dedicated staffers who work to get him elected ... Franken’s treatment of Ted Cruz, which has already been much-discussed online, is a truly great addition to the ever-growing body of literature about how much Ted Cruz sucks.
Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the PresidencyJoshua Green
PositiveThe New RepublicThe spotlight may be on Bannon, but Devil’s Bargain is really about how a bunch of sinister Bannon-esque forces aligned not just to win Trump the presidency, but to ensure that Hillary Clinton lost it ... There are reasons to doubt that Bannon’s role was as central as Green sometimes makes it—Michael Flynn was leading 'lock her up chants' at the Republican National Convention a month before Bannon took over the campaign—but the most salient takeaway from Devil’s Bargain is that Trump didn’t build that. It was fortuitous alliances with dark figures like Bannon and the Mercers, and decades of anti-Clinton work, that ultimately paved the road to victory.
Conscience of a ConservativeJeff Flake
PanThe New RepublicFlake’s book sacrifices an actual philosophy of conservatism for a sentimental and often disingenuous plea to make America decent again ... At its best, Conscience of a Conservative is both solemn and fiery, an excoriation of Flake’s own party and president. He describes his party’s embrace of Trump as a 'Faustian bargain' that 'wasn’t worth it,' because Republicans deluded themselves about Trump’s true nature ... But what the reader may not know about Jeff Flake, and which he certainly doesn’t reveal in his short book, is that he has voted with Donald Trump 95 percent of the time ... Flake’s conservatism is mostly a mix of worn cliches about self-reliance (learned, as they so often are, on a rugged Arizona ranch) and freedom ... There is no serious diagnosis of the historical trends that led to the Republican Party becoming a vehicle for corporate libertarian extremists like the Koch Brothers ... As far as words go, Conscience of a Conservative is as good a takedown of Donald Trump as has been written by a conservative. But words aren’t what matter now.
Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House YearsDavid Litt
PositiveThe New RepublicLitt’s memoir is structured as a collection of speeches, with each chapter built on a central anecdote or metaphor...It’s a clever meta-schtick, and he gets away with it because of the book’s greatest strength: its detailed and entertaining look at how presidential speeches are written. But it also means that each chapter is dependent on the strength of its anecdotes. When they work, it’s a limber, funny and illuminating book. This is especially true near the end, when Litt reckons with the importance of public service, his boss’s legacy, and feeling like an old man in a young White House. (He’s 30 years old.) When they don’t, Litt’s overeager style can grate, giving the book the feel of a 300-page Shouts & Murmurs article.
PositiveThe New RepublicGrant is a stirring defense of an underrated general and unfairly maligned president. Its great contribution to the popular understanding of the Civil War and its aftermath is to expose the roots of the longstanding bias against Grant: White southerners and their allies wanted to portray Reconstruction as a tragic folly, rather than a radical and unfinished revolution. To be sure, a sympathetic treatment was to be expected: Chernow is enormously defensive of his subjects … Grant’s real strength: its treatment of Reconstruction. It is portrayed as a continuation of the divisions that led to the Civil War, rather than a grace note, a national embarrassment, or a well-intentioned failure … Chernow has given us a rare kind of popular history: one that forces readers to confront hard truths, not just revel in America’s all too fleeting triumphs.