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March 4, 2022

George Ernsberger
Posted 3/4/22

The Revenge of Power: How Autocrats are Reinventing Politics for the 21st Century by Moisés Naím (St. Martin’s).

“People love dictators,” said a friend aof mine, …

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About Books

March 4, 2022


The Revenge of Power: How Autocrats are Reinventing Politics for the 21st Century by Moisés Naím (St. Martin’s).

“People love dictators,” said a friend aof mine, recently; “They’re entertaining, and you don’t have to think.” An insight that came insistently to mind as I read this thoughtful book. Autocrats do indeed relieve us of the need for thinking, which will certainly head off some kinds of pain. They get a foothold by promising that, right up front—often very loudly and crudely, but they may think that’s necessary; they’re yelling past the stubborn, thinking people who don’t want to be relieved of that function even though it’s burdensome. So they’ll entertain those who follow them, and they’ll deny the cranks who seem to enjoy or at least to tolerate complexity. Moisés Naím is a Venezuelan-born journalist and scholar, a fellow of the Carnegie Endowment; he isn’t preachy, only explain-y, and he doesn’t traffic in slogans. He just wants us to think carefully about what kind of society and culture we want to, or are willing to, live in. And what kinds of seduction we’ll recognize early enough to resist.

Funny Farm by Laurie Zaleski (St. Martin’s).

Lovely, warm account by the proprietor of an extraordinary “rescue farm” for animals. Hundreds of them, of many kinds (well…it’s New Jersey, so no lions or elephants, so far, but if any such showed up, we don’t doubt that this farm would find a way to make them feel at home). But this book—charming as one will have imagined by now, and cozy and warm and often funny—is also a gritty, even dark, family story. There’s a woman’s flight with her children from a violent marriage (we’ll learn that this was our author’s parents). And all this, including plenty of charming anecdotes about particular critters’ rescues and “personalities,” as we expect, is related not with a slick feature-writer’s wit but with a matter-of-fact, professional woman’s plain talk. Believe the subtitle: “My Unexpected Life with 600 Rescue Animals.” Earnest and honest, endearing and inspiring.

The Club by Ellery Lloyd (Harper).

This thriller writer (actually, a husband-and-wife team), new to the column, is very knowing about the very rich and their quirks and favorite pastimes, and original and creative in structuring his/their storytelling. This novel is set on a private island 90 minutes from London by car, but accessible by car only on a causeway at low tide. And the book opens—opens! with a couple in a car on that causeway as the tide is rising.

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter (NetFlix).

Yeah, I said NetFlix and that’s what I meant. This column favorite writer’s very best novel (maybe—it’s the big one from three years ago, where the central character’s mother is the source of a shocking surprise) is about to drop as a series on that network. Great stuff, and the series stars a great actress, Toni Collette.


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