‘President Obama is sitting not even four feet away’: my life working in the White House

For five years, Beck Dorey-Stein was a stenographer in the White House, allowing her a front-row seat as political history was made. Now her memoir – extracted below – is being turned into a film

A job at the White House. Perhaps it doesn’t sound the most appealing of prospects under the current occupant. But Barack Obama’s White House? For most go-getting graduates heading to Washington DC during the Obama presidency, landing a position at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would have been the stuff of dreams. Not for Beck Dorey-Stein, who arrived there in 2011 nursing an innate suspicion of the US capital and its “DC creatures”, and with no desire whatsoever to work in politics.

She intended to stay just a few months: “The city seemed too buttoned up for me, too obsessed with politics.” Yet within a year, aged just 25, she found herself at its epicentre, working ...

No Way But This by Jeff Sparrow – in search of Paul Robeson

Singer, actor, socialist hero, Paul Robeson made a huge impact on leftists around the world

When Paul Robeson, aged and ailing, was asked on 12 June 1956 by the House Un-American Activities Committee whether he was a member of the Communist party, he replied: “Would you like to come to the ballot box when I vote and take out the ballot and see?” His mockery and contempt for the interrogation belied the perilous state he was in: his passport had been withdrawn; he was banned from performing in Hollywood or in concert halls; radio stations refused to play his music. That moment, when the singer and actor had both everything and nothing to lose, is one of the emotional highpoints of this nuanced and haunting biography. Robeson, who had always been told to hold his tongue, not to rise to provocation, finally allowed himself to kick back at ...

The death of truth: how we gave up on facts and ended up with Trump

From post-modernism to filter bubbles, ‘truth decay’ has been spreading for decades. How can we stop alternative facts from bringing down democracy, asks Michiko Kakutani

Two of the most monstrous regimes in human history came to power in the 20th century, and both were predicated on the violation and despoiling of truth, on the knowledge that cynicism and weariness and fear can make people susceptible to the lies and false promises of leaders bent on unconditional power. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

Arendt’s words increasingly sound less like a dispatch from another century than a chilling ...

Behold, America by Sarah Churchwell review – the underside of the ‘American dream’

This timely survey traces the political roots of the current ‘America First’ movement back to the early 20th century

In its initial incarnation, the Ku Klux Klan was a southern organisation born of denial: Klansmen rejected the obvious consequences of Confederate defeat for the racial character and social structure of the South. Although the Klan had been suppressed by the turn of the century, it was reincarnated in 1915, and soon spread far beyond the southern states, becoming a national phenomenon.

Black Americans remained a target, but its demonology extended to encompass other presences unwelcome to white Anglo-Saxon Protestant America: Jews and Catholics, southern and eastern Europeans. On Monday 30 May 1927 there were violent scuffles at New York’s Memorial Day parades, when protesters confronted Klan marchers. In Queens there were seven arrests: five “avowed Klansmen”; a sixth person arrested by mistake and immediately released; and – mysteriously – a 20-year-old German-American by the ...

Yes, he can: Obama debuts as Sherlock Holmesian detective

Along with Watsonian sidekick Joe Biden, the former president has embarked on a crimefighting career in Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer

Step aside Holmes and Watson; back off Poirot and Hastings. A new pair of amateur sleuths are hitting town this month: Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Andrew Shaffer’s Hope Never Dies opens as Biden, his narrator, mopes around the house shortly after the 2016 presidential election. Obama is “on the vacation to end all vacations”, and his former vice president is scrolling through old text messages they sent each other, feeling left behind as he watches paparazzi videos of the 44th president kayaking with Justin Trudeau and base jumping with Bradley Cooper. Then, in a satisfyingly noirish scene, he hears “flint striking metal”, and sees “a slim figure in his black hand-tailored suit” in the trees:

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CockyBot flies to the rescue in literature’s trademark wars

Recent bids to claim ownership of terms used in books and their titles include ‘dragon slayer’, ‘cocky’ and even ‘big’. A canny bot is keeping watch

Despite the fact that dragon slayers have thronged the pages of fantasy novels ever since Smaug was brought down in The Hobbit in 1937, an application to trademark the term “dragon slayer” was filed in the US just a few weeks ago.

The trademark was filed in connection with a series of books by Michael-Scott Earle. The application cites an Earle novel featuring a gold-tattooed Chicago firefighter starring in a “pulp fantasy harem adventure”. This is something we’re obviously keen to see – but as Cory Doctorow points out at Boingboing, this is an audacious attempt to trademark a generic phrase widely used in fantasy (more than 600 novels, by Doctorow’s count). Earle’s attempt comes hot on the heels of Faleena Hopkins’s much-disputed ...

Imperial Twilight by Stephen R Platt review – lessons for today from the opium war

A beautifully written and expert account of western aggression in 19th-century China casts light on the Chinese reaction to Trump

While campaigning for the US presidency, Donald Trump talked tough on China. He accused the country of “raping” the US economically: its trade policies and currency manipulation were allegedly perpetrating “one of the greatest thefts in the history of the world”. In March, Trump put his money where his mouth was, announcing up to $60bn of tariffs on Chinese imports. The US, the White House proclaimed, was “strategically defending itself” from “economic aggression”. Within hours, the People’s Republic responded by announcing its own tariffs on key US exports: pork, apples, soybeans. The rhetoric of public opinion in China was revealing of the deeper history of this trade row. Chinese editorialists promptly linked Trump’s action back to 19th-century western aggressions, and specifically to the collisions that dragged China violently into a ...

American librarians defend renaming Laura Ingalls Wilder award

Professional body the ALA says the Little House on the Prairie author’s ‘complex legacy’ of racist attitudes was not consistent with its values

The American Library Association (ALA) has stressed that its decision to drop Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from its children’s literature award due to racist sentiments in her books is not “an attempt to censor, limit, or deter access” to the Little House on the Prairie author’s books.

The organisation announced on Sunday that the board of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) had voted 12 to zero in favour of changing the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder award to the Children’s literature legacy award. The prize was first awarded in 1954 to Wilder herself, and has been won by some of America’s best-loved children’s authors, from EB White to Beverly Cleary.

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American librarians defend renaming Laura Ingalls Wilder award

Professional body the ALA says the Little House on the Prairie author’s ‘complex legacy’ of racist attitudes was not consistent with its values

The American Library Association (ALA) has stressed that its decision to drop Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from its children’s literature award due to racist sentiments in her books is not “an attempt to censor, limit, or deter access” to the Little House on the Prairie author’s books.

The organisation announced on Sunday that the board of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) had voted 12 to zero in favour of changing the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder award to the Children’s literature legacy award. The prize was first awarded in 1954 to Wilder herself, and has been won by some of America’s best-loved children’s authors, from EB White to Beverly Cleary.

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Donald Hall, US poet laureate and prize-winning man of letters, dies at 89

  • Daughter confirms death at home in New Hampshire
  • Hall was known for work on love, loss, baseball and the past

Donald Hall, a prolific and award-winning poet and man of letters who was widely admired for his sharp humor and painful candor about nature, mortality, baseball and the distant past, has died. He was 89.

Hall’s daughter, Philippa Smith, confirmed on Sunday that her father died on Saturday at his home in Wilmot, New Hampshire, after being in hospice care for some time.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name removed from book award over racial concerns

American Library Association changes award name after examining ‘expressions of stereotypical attitudes’ in books

A division of the American Library Association has voted to remove the name of Laura Ingalls Wilder from a major children’s book award, over concerns about how the author portrayed African Americans and Native Americans.

Related: Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder review – gritty memoir dispels Little House myths

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Dave Eggers: ‘I always picture Trump hiding under a table’

The Circle author talks about Facebook, why immigrants are not the enemy and his first novel for children

I am attracted to purpose,” Dave Eggers says. People need it, he believes, and so do nations. Much of his fiction has reflected on the loss of an American sense of purpose, the decay of the dream; much of his non-fiction has told the stories of immigrants to the US who have shown the drive and generosity missing from the country as a whole. In person, as in his work, Eggers combines an openness to describing darkness and tragedy with a faith in the essential goodness of “everyday people”. He tells me that “whenever there’s a moment when people are inspired to make the world better, I get interested. I’m super corny that way.”

The most recent of Eggers’s many books is The Lifters, a magic realist tale written for ...

Author Junot Diaz cleared to teach at US university after investigation

MIT finds no evidence to prevent writer returning to teach following misconduct allegations by author Zinzi Clemmons

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology investigation cleared Pulitzer Prize-winning author and creative writing professor Junot Diaz to return to the classroom in the next academic year, starting in autumn.

The inquiry into Diaz’s actions toward female students and staff yielded no information that would lead to restrictions on Diaz’s role as a faculty member at the US university in Cambridge.

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The Restless Wave by John McCain and Mark Salter review – a blindly patriotic, militarised memoir

US senator John McCain’s cancer battle sets the mood for this chronicle of ‘great’ political fights

‘He’s dying anyway”: that was a White House aide’s vile excuse for dismissing recent criticism from John McCain, the doughty senator who has become the conscience of the Republican party. McCain does indeed have brain cancer, and he has chosen to go out like a rancorous prophet, deploring the paranoid, anti-historical hysteria to which Trump panders.

McCain’s impending death gives this book’s résumé of “great fights” its urgency and, yes, its gravity. Its mood is grim, not just because of his medical prognosis. McCain comes from a military clan – he is the son and grandson of admirals and the father of a Marine; a naval pilot in the Vietnam war, he was imprisoned and intermittently tortured for six years in a Hanoi prison after his plane was shot down – and he ...

Stan Lee: police probe reports of elder abuse against Marvel mogul

Restraining order granted against Lee’s business manager, who is accused of taking advantage of the 95-year-old’s condition

Los Angeles police are investigating reports of elder abuse against Stan Lee that come amid a struggle over the life and fortune of the 95-year-old Marvel Comics mogul, court documents showed on Wednesday.

The investigation was revealed in a restraining order granted against Keya Morgan, who in recent months has been acting as Lee’s business manager and personal adviser.

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Stan Lee: police probe reports of elder abuse against Marvel mogul

Restraining order granted against Lee’s business manager, who is accused of taking advantage of the 95-year-old’s condition

Los Angeles police are investigating reports of elder abuse against Stan Lee that come amid a struggle over the life and fortune of the 95-year-old Marvel Comics mogul, court documents showed on Wednesday.

The investigation was revealed in a restraining order granted against Keya Morgan, who in recent months has been acting as Lee’s business manager and personal adviser.

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Reporter: A Memoir by Seymour Hersh – review

US journalist Seymour Hersh recounts in fine detail the stories that made him, from the My Lai massacre to Abu Ghraib

Ten years ago, not long before the election that put Barack Obama in the White House, I went to Washington to interview Seymour Hersh, the reporter who, in 1969, single-handedly uncovered the atrocities that had been committed by an American platoon in My Lai, South Vietnam, 12 months before: a story that hastened the end of the Vietnam war and for which, in 1970, he won a Pulitzer prize. I remember our encounter vividly: the chaos of his office, with its filthy walls and toppling piles of notebooks; the unstoppable flow of his conversation; the wolfish greed with which he scoffed his eggs at breakfast. Above all, what has stayed with me was his almost total lack of interest in anything other than his reporting (by his own ...

Bill Gates gives a book to every US student graduating in 2018

The Microsoft mogul is presenting all 4 million students passing out of college this year with a free download of Hans Rosling’s Factfulness

What does every college graduate need? According to Bill Gates, it’s a compendium of statistics. This summer, the software billionaire is set to give a copy of the late Hans Rosling’s Factfulness to every student graduating from a US college.

Published in April, the book lays out Rosling’s argument that the world is actually in a much better state than we think.

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The President Is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson review – a presidential thriller

There is a sprinking of psychological authenticity in this bestseller mix

Although President Bill Clinton’s healthcare plans were blocked and his Middle East peace initiative failed, his eight years in the White House had an enduring influence on mystery fiction.

His habit of carrying a thriller in photo-range when boarding Air Force One or Marine One raised the sales of authors including Walter Mosley, PD James and Richard North Patterson. And the scandals that shadowed the Clinton presidency – both financial (Whitewater) and sexual (Gennifer Flowers, Monica Lewinsky) – also liberated political novelists to darken their tone, starting with David Baldacci’s Absolute Power in 1996, in which the president is a rapist-murderer.

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