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Why You Should Be a Socialist

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A primer on Democratic Socialism for those who are extremely skeptical of it. America is witnessing the rise of a new generation of socialist activists. More young people support socialism now than at any time since the labor movement of the 1920s. The Democratic Socialists of America, a big-tent leftist organization, has just surpassed 50,000 members nationwide. In the fa A primer on Democratic Socialism for those who are extremely skeptical of it. America is witnessing the rise of a new generation of socialist activists. More young people support socialism now than at any time since the labor movement of the 1920s. The Democratic Socialists of America, a big-tent leftist organization, has just surpassed 50,000 members nationwide. In the fall of 2018, one of the most influential congressmen in the Democratic Party lost a primary to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old socialist who had never held office before. But what does all this mean? Should we be worried about our country, or should we join the march toward our bright socialist future? In Why You Should Be a Socialist, Nathan J. Robinson will give readers a primer on twenty-first-century socialism: what it is, what it isn’t, and why everyone should want to be a part of this exciting new chapter of American politics. From the heyday of Occupy Wall Street through Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and beyond, young progressives have been increasingly drawn to socialist ideas. However, the movement’s goals need to be defined more sharply before it can effect real change on a national scale. Likewise, liberals and conservatives will benefit from a deeper understanding of the true nature of this ideology, whether they agree with it or not. Robinson’s charming, accessible, and well-argued book will convince even the most skeptical readers of the merits of socialist thought.


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A primer on Democratic Socialism for those who are extremely skeptical of it. America is witnessing the rise of a new generation of socialist activists. More young people support socialism now than at any time since the labor movement of the 1920s. The Democratic Socialists of America, a big-tent leftist organization, has just surpassed 50,000 members nationwide. In the fa A primer on Democratic Socialism for those who are extremely skeptical of it. America is witnessing the rise of a new generation of socialist activists. More young people support socialism now than at any time since the labor movement of the 1920s. The Democratic Socialists of America, a big-tent leftist organization, has just surpassed 50,000 members nationwide. In the fall of 2018, one of the most influential congressmen in the Democratic Party lost a primary to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old socialist who had never held office before. But what does all this mean? Should we be worried about our country, or should we join the march toward our bright socialist future? In Why You Should Be a Socialist, Nathan J. Robinson will give readers a primer on twenty-first-century socialism: what it is, what it isn’t, and why everyone should want to be a part of this exciting new chapter of American politics. From the heyday of Occupy Wall Street through Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and beyond, young progressives have been increasingly drawn to socialist ideas. However, the movement’s goals need to be defined more sharply before it can effect real change on a national scale. Likewise, liberals and conservatives will benefit from a deeper understanding of the true nature of this ideology, whether they agree with it or not. Robinson’s charming, accessible, and well-argued book will convince even the most skeptical readers of the merits of socialist thought.

30 review for Why You Should Be a Socialist

  1. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    A helpful and accessible guide to socialism that I would recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about class, labor, and socioeconomic systems. I come from the field of Psychology and grew up in a relatively wealthy area and family, so while I’ve grown to endorse things like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, I struggled to really understand the specific definitions of terms like neoliberalism, socialism, democratic socialism, etc. Why You Should Be a Socialist is a friendly and intell A helpful and accessible guide to socialism that I would recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about class, labor, and socioeconomic systems. I come from the field of Psychology and grew up in a relatively wealthy area and family, so while I’ve grown to endorse things like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, I struggled to really understand the specific definitions of terms like neoliberalism, socialism, democratic socialism, etc. Why You Should Be a Socialist is a friendly and intelligent primer on these topics, such that Nathan Robinson writes in a welcoming way while still making passionate and convincing arguments for socialism. He writes about envisioning a more socialist world in which the class people are born into would not have such a bearing on their lives, medical care is provided to all regardless of people's ability to pay, and workers are no longer taken advantage of and abused by their bosses. He incorporates the concept of intersectionality and how class intersects with race so that his book does not just appeal to poor white people. Though I still have a lot to learn about labor justice, after reading this book I do identify as a democratic socialist. As at least one other Goodreads reviewer noted, perhaps there is more Robinson could have included about proletariat revolutions, as well as voices of people of color, trans people, immigrants, and more who have been affected by capitalist accumulation and exploitation. Still, a great introduction to socialism for a novice like me.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    This book is for your intelligent friend who is turned off by politics and doesn't spend a whole lot of time on it. It is a primer for them on why the left is best. It explains why Socialism or at least social democracy is the way things should go and gives common-sense reasons why liberalism is inferior and conservatism is even worse. It argues for a Democratic Socialism probably Fabian (explained in the book for examples one can think of Beatrix Potter and Bertrand Russell or Oscar Wilde). It This book is for your intelligent friend who is turned off by politics and doesn't spend a whole lot of time on it. It is a primer for them on why the left is best. It explains why Socialism or at least social democracy is the way things should go and gives common-sense reasons why liberalism is inferior and conservatism is even worse. It argues for a Democratic Socialism probably Fabian (explained in the book for examples one can think of Beatrix Potter and Bertrand Russell or Oscar Wilde). It is the kind of socialism I can get behind. Short book explaining why this ideology might work for you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sO71K... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bk6HK...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

    This book should have been titled Why You Should Be an Eccentric Social Democrat. Nathan Robinson does a good job of gently convincing the reader to leave behind the worst of American liberalism. Unfortunately, the book has fundamental shortcomings: it’s ideologically closer to social democracy than actual socialism, uses terminology in confusing ways, leaves out large swaths of important anti-capitalist analysis, and reduces socialism to a kind of moralizing philosophy rather than a movement gr This book should have been titled Why You Should Be an Eccentric Social Democrat. Nathan Robinson does a good job of gently convincing the reader to leave behind the worst of American liberalism. Unfortunately, the book has fundamental shortcomings: it’s ideologically closer to social democracy than actual socialism, uses terminology in confusing ways, leaves out large swaths of important anti-capitalist analysis, and reduces socialism to a kind of moralizing philosophy rather than a movement grounded in material struggles. The best thing about this book is that Nathan Robinson writes very clearly. The tone is friendly, and every argument is made from first principles. It reads exactly like the author’s work in Current Affairs: sometimes long-winded, but always accessible. Robinson never assumes, as too many “introductory” left-wing texts do, that readers know any of the left’s jargon or share our motives and presuppositions. Yet the book has, in my view, two major shortcomings that prevent me from recommending it to friends who are curious about socialism. First, the book uses terminology in confusing and nonstandard ways. Robinson spends considerable time expounding the superiority of his particular leftist tendency: libertarian socialism. Normally, I would be pleased to read something like this, but unfortunately, the politics advanced in this book aren’t consistent with the libertarian socialist tradition. Libertarian socialism, as defined pretty clearly on Wikipedia or in this short explainer by the Black Rose Federation, is an anti-state ideology; it opposes both the existence of the state (regardless of economic system), as well as the use of electoral politics (i.e. accessing the power of the capitalist state) to advance the socialist cause. This book, on the other hand, not only doesn’t discuss dismantling the state, but puts its full weight behind the electoral road to socialism without any discussion of its viability or its consistency with anti-authoritarian principles. On the whole, I could call Robinson a democratic socialist or social democrat, with a large element of utopian socialism. But I would not call this a libertarian socialist book, at least not in the standard use of the term. (I wonder if this ideological cloudiness is a Noam Chomsky influence.) The second major problem with the book is that it omits a lot of simple yet important ideas and analysis that are crucial to understanding capitalism and socialism. For instance, nowhere does the book define “class,” or “working class”/“proletariat,” or “capitalist”/“bourgeoisie.” It doesn’t explain why the proletariat (as opposed to the “middle class” or some other category) is at the center of the socialist movement. It doesn’t explain where profit comes from, or how the labor market disciplines workers. It talks briefly about specific oppressions faced by people of color, non-men, trans people, Indigenous people, and immigrants; yet it doesn’t show how these oppressions are intertwined with the mechanisms of capitalist accumulation, imperialism, production, and reproduction. The result is not just a book that’s light on theory, which might not be a bad thing in itself. The problem is that, without some understanding of capitalist political economy, we easily devise the wrong tools to fight capital. When it comes to socialist strategy, Why You Should Be a Socialist reflexively assumes that convincing people to elect nominally socialist politicians to office is the only viable way to implement socialism. Nowhere does it discuss the many revolutionary strategies that leftists have developed. In doing so, the book ignores the structural barriers to overcoming the capitalist system from within government (a fact illustrated by a painfully long history of social-democratic failures). Many of Robinson’s heroes — Emma Goldman, Rosa Luxemburg, Errico Malatesta, and so forth — understood this well. Even other democratic socialist publications, such as Jacobin, at least give well-reasoned arguments for why they believe in the electoral reform path to socialism. Whatever your stance is, it’s irresponsible to leave out, in an introductory socialist text, the question of “reform vs. revolution.” At some level, these glaring omissions have to do with Robinson’s skepticism of Marx and Marxism — indeed, the book uncritically channels the mainstream misrepresentation of Marxism as containing inherently authoritarian tendencies. At one point Robinson writes, “I know some socialists who believe that nobody can really be a socialist unless they have read Karl Marx. I don’t agree with them. To me, this is like saying that nobody can be a physicist unless they have read Isaac Newton.” I agree in a very literal way: when I studied physics, I didn’t whip out my copy of the Principia Mathematica. But I did still have to absorb the basic principles discovered by Newton and his academic descendants. The same is true of Marx: one can be a plenty good socialist without reading Capital, but we still need to learn Marxist fundamentals from somewhere, because no other intellectual tradition offers nearly as much insight into capitalist society, its dynamics, and its vulnerabilities. And so, eschewing an analytic critique of capitalism, Robinson relies on moral arguments about inequality and unfairness, so that the emotional register of the book is closer to left-liberal outrage than proletarian solidarity, and class struggle is minimized in favor of rationally convincing voters to support social-democratic representatives. In the burgeoning microgenre of “socialism 101” books, I can see a place for Why You Should Be a Socialist in moving some liberals a bit leftward in the narrow realm of policy. But if a friend comes to me looking for a serious primer on socialist, communist, or anarchist ideas, I unfortunately won’t be recommending this one.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Boissonneault

    I’ll admit that there was some uncertainty before reading the book as to whether I might call myself a socialist or not. I have not traditionally labeled myself as such, although I support left-leaning candidates like Bernie Sanders and generally subscribe to liberal policies. It’s true, as Robinson points out, that it is only the left that seems to have any solutions. When you’re ideologically wedded to the market—as the right is—and it is the market that is creating the problems in the first p I’ll admit that there was some uncertainty before reading the book as to whether I might call myself a socialist or not. I have not traditionally labeled myself as such, although I support left-leaning candidates like Bernie Sanders and generally subscribe to liberal policies. It’s true, as Robinson points out, that it is only the left that seems to have any solutions. When you’re ideologically wedded to the market—as the right is—and it is the market that is creating the problems in the first place, you can have no possible solutions to offer. Cutting taxes and deregulation is just going to make matters worse, but you can’t admit that because that is the foundation of your political philosophy. So if we’re going to do anything to solve our social and political problems, we by necessity have to look to the left. The left, at a minimum, does not cripple itself by limiting its own funding and ability to provide useful services and programs. But is socialism, specifically, the answer? The answer depends on how you define socialism, and definitions are tricky. Not only is socialism intrinsically difficult to define, but it also has a host of negative historical connotations to battle against. When the average person hears the word socialism, the Soviet-style variety is unfortunately what comes to mind. While the difference between Stalinism and guaranteed healthcare should be obvious, some people simply can’t shake the Soviet connection. In the end, whether or not you would call yourself a socialist is largely a matter of how you might define the term. (Although it raises the question of why you would want to stubbornly cling to a term with that kind of historical baggage.) Ironically, this book has ultimately confirmed that I will not be calling myself a socialist, based on how Robinson defines the term and on its historical baggage. In Robinson’s own words: “Personally, I consider myself both a radical and a pragmatist. I think there should be no borders, no prisons, and no bosses. That makes me a utopian socialist.” Elsewhere, he writes that “in the long term I’d like to live in a stateless society in which the means of production are democratically controlled.” Well, at least you know what you are dealing with. While I agree with Robinson’s diagnosis of the major social and economic problems, and with his critique of conservatism, and with his vision of a more equitable society, I am far less confident that I would want to live in a society with no state, no borders, and no prisons. He has apparently more confidence than I do in my ability to predict what a world like that would actually be like. I work under the assumption that imagination and reality do not always perfectly correlate, and what you think you want does not always materialize in the way you might think. This becomes more of a problem the further you move away from the current state of affairs. I do, however, share Robinson’s belief that political problems can be solved, and that the world can be made to be a more fair and equitable place. We might both agree on things like universal healthcare and education, and that progressive taxation can reduce economic and political inequality. We are probably both in favor of getting money out of politics and that the free market is inefficient in all the ways that matter most. But where we disagree seems to be at the critical juncture where socialism turns into progressivism. In line with Karl Popper’s “piecemeal social engineering,” and with Joseph Stiglitz’s version of progressive capitalism, I would much prefer incremental reform to a complete overhaul of the system. The law of unintended consequences is highly relevant here, and in addition, we already know that capitalism can create high levels of growth and wealth and a variety of goods and services to match a variety of preferences. It seems both more realistic and less risky to leverage the better aspects of capitalism in a mixed economy where the wealth that is created is redistributed in a more equitable manner, not unlike the Nordic countries of today. The thing is, you can agree with all of Robinson’s policy recommendations (universal healthcare and education, more robust worker rights, etc.) without also thinking that we should one day live in a stateless society or completely upend the system we have. But maybe that’s what makes socialism different from progressivism, and if so, then I have renewed confidence in calling myself a progressive. Despite Robinson’s radical positions, the book is certainly worth the read. He correctly outlines the problems, makes a strong moral case for taking action, suggests effective policy recommendations, and delivers strong critiques of the competing political ideologies. But his insistence on the necessity of a utopian vision, and his overconfidence in knowing what drastic changes would or would not be preferable upon implementation make this book unlikely to convert many people over to radical socialism. This book may very well convert people over to the left—which I think it should—but it will likely stop far short of the stateless society that he thinks he wants.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ietrio

    Never mind the Gulag, they never understood Socialism well. Robinson promises the Heaven on Earth, probably after you die, but it's for a good cause, right?

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Accessible introduction to socialist ideas, I highly reccomend it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    Readable if rambling introduction to socialism in the context of 2020 America, with a theme of why Bernie Sanders is the presidential candidate who best represents what most Americans want. It clarifies how "socialism" means all kinds of different things to different people, but the core substance of the concept (fire departments, sidewalks, libraries, etc.) does not have to be scary. It's useful for people on the left who need counter-arguments to the standard talking points of the right. It mi Readable if rambling introduction to socialism in the context of 2020 America, with a theme of why Bernie Sanders is the presidential candidate who best represents what most Americans want. It clarifies how "socialism" means all kinds of different things to different people, but the core substance of the concept (fire departments, sidewalks, libraries, etc.) does not have to be scary. It's useful for people on the left who need counter-arguments to the standard talking points of the right. It might convert some open-minded "centrist" liberals who are willing to reality-test the current conventional wisdom. But I don't know that people on the right will have enough patience with Robinson's meandering bleeding heart moralistic commentary to get to the point of understanding his explanation of why democratic socialism is not the same thing as Stalinism.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Pantsonhead

    I love Nathan Robinson, I am even subscribed to his magazine, but this book is frankly just embarrassing. The CORE of a good introduction to socialist politics is in here. Nathan uses some of the same basic arguments and explanations that managed to turn me into a fellow traveler, if not quite a "socialist" yet. (I used to be a generally apolitical/soft libertarian sort of guy.) But this decent core is surrounded by unnecessary cruft. The introduction made me cringe, even ignoring the unfortunate I love Nathan Robinson, I am even subscribed to his magazine, but this book is frankly just embarrassing. The CORE of a good introduction to socialist politics is in here. Nathan uses some of the same basic arguments and explanations that managed to turn me into a fellow traveler, if not quite a "socialist" yet. (I used to be a generally apolitical/soft libertarian sort of guy.) But this decent core is surrounded by unnecessary cruft. The introduction made me cringe, even ignoring the unfortunate references to Jeremy Corbyn becoming PM. What this book needed is aggressive editing. Instead the publishers allowed Nathan to include awkward ramblings about himself, or stupid Twitter-style asinine "joke" segments. About half the content here is actively detrimental to the purpose of the book, and could have been easily cut out. As it stands, this works as a gag gift to conservative relatives, or a supplemental to people who already read (and like) Current Affairs. But I'm afraid the introductory few chapters alone makes it useless for converting non-believers. To make things worse, I listened to the audiobook version. Nathan chose to narrate the audiobook himself. He is not a professional narrator, and his enunciation is very annoying. Listening to him speak felt like listening to an overenthusiastic highschooler giving his report in front of class. Unprofessional and unpleasant. A real shame. I wanted to like this book, but I couldn't.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Henry Silver

    In this particular publication and equally his other writings, I find Nathan Robinson an eloquent and erudite exponent of the socialist tradition and worldview, applied both to history and to contemporary conditions.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Luke Zoromski

    If you do not understand why Bernie Sanders has such a movement, I recommend this book. If you want to feel hope and will to fight for a better world, I recommend this book. If you despise our current state of politics and the "lesser of two evils" mentality, I recommend this book. If you feel that politics is not worth your time because nothing will change, I recommend this book. If you want to understand the perspective of many young leftists, I recommend this book. If you are curious on what If you do not understand why Bernie Sanders has such a movement, I recommend this book. If you want to feel hope and will to fight for a better world, I recommend this book. If you despise our current state of politics and the "lesser of two evils" mentality, I recommend this book. If you feel that politics is not worth your time because nothing will change, I recommend this book. If you want to understand the perspective of many young leftists, I recommend this book. If you are curious on what "socialism" really is after having the s-word yelled at you, I recommend this book. If you feel literally anything other than hate and vitriol when hearing the word socialism, I recommend this book. Nathan J. Robinson does a wonderful job putting feelings of many progressives into words. He describes the mentality of many folks on the left, and addresses criticisms of our opponents. This book is mostly for the skeptics who do not understand the fervent movement behind Bernie Sanders. It is also good for us strong Sander's supporters who care intensely about his policies to get additional perspective and facts to help argue our side. A+ Nathan

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    I'm a big fan of Nathan J. Robinson's work and of Current Affairs in particular, and I think this is a great introduction and summation of the kind of democratic socialism that so many Americans have recently - myself included - begun to advocate for and believe in. I don't imagine that this will convince many people who recoil at the very title, but I can see this being a great way to introduce people to your (if you're such a socialist) way of thinking, and perhaps turn a progressive liberal o I'm a big fan of Nathan J. Robinson's work and of Current Affairs in particular, and I think this is a great introduction and summation of the kind of democratic socialism that so many Americans have recently - myself included - begun to advocate for and believe in. I don't imagine that this will convince many people who recoil at the very title, but I can see this being a great way to introduce people to your (if you're such a socialist) way of thinking, and perhaps turn a progressive liberal over the edge to socialist thought. At the very least, it's hard to refute the book's first section, which lays out so many of the problems that us socialists can't get out of our heads. If you have a relative who might be receptive, or is interested in hearing from your point of view, or if you yourself have been keeping an eye on this whole socialism thing and don't quite know where you stand, I think it's a great read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Haden

    this is aimed at the skeptic but as someone who already identified as such and has just So Many center-of-right family members, it's a great aid in organizing previously jumbled thoughts so i don't sound like an inarticulate mess when politics comes up at holidays all in all very accessible, offers great jumping-off points to further reading

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mark Plaid

    Of course socialism is still provocative in America these days despite Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and others mainstreaming "democratic socialism." Personally, I was already sold on the idea of democratic socialism before I read this book. However, I approached Why You Should Be a Socialist to learn more about how I could communicate it better to "skeptics" of it, which is exactly author, Nathan J. Robinson's, intention for readers of the book. I came away from it not only learning Of course socialism is still provocative in America these days despite Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and others mainstreaming "democratic socialism." Personally, I was already sold on the idea of democratic socialism before I read this book. However, I approached Why You Should Be a Socialist to learn more about how I could communicate it better to "skeptics" of it, which is exactly author, Nathan J. Robinson's, intention for readers of the book. I came away from it not only learning how to better communicate my views on socialism, but inspired to be more open about my views. This is particularly true where Robinson addresses the obvious retort of "unrealistic dreams of a utopia." He unabashedly admits to aspirations for a utopia and clearly explains how it is not unreasonable to do so. I grew up poor working class and came into conflict with my peers as my views departed from the narrow conservative views I was taught to believe. I changed my views from learning more about the things that draw ire from the Midwestern blue collar folk I knew. I figure if I can change, they can too for the same reasons I did. Robinson does this without condescension or being too "touchy-feely" either. Why You Should be a Socialist actually changed my life.

  14. 4 out of 5

    David Scheckel

    Good! Not too much in here that I didn't already know or thought already but it's clearly aimed at skeptics. Nathan's optimism is really motivating.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    Okay, so I am once again giving a longer review and being harsher in my criticism on a book I overall liked, but I've always got more to say when a book is neither absolutely awful not absolutely perfect. First off, this book is already horribly out of date. I don't even mean the recent pandemic, I mean page 12 where Robinson writes "It's no longer considered fantastical to think that Corbyn might one day be the U.K. Prime Minister" which earned a big guffaw from me right out of the gate. The ele Okay, so I am once again giving a longer review and being harsher in my criticism on a book I overall liked, but I've always got more to say when a book is neither absolutely awful not absolutely perfect. First off, this book is already horribly out of date. I don't even mean the recent pandemic, I mean page 12 where Robinson writes "It's no longer considered fantastical to think that Corbyn might one day be the U.K. Prime Minister" which earned a big guffaw from me right out of the gate. The elevation of singular figures like Corbyn and Sanders is, to me, one of the criticisms of the left that he lease unanswered in this book, our tendency to develop cults of personalities and fandoms surrounding politicians, rather than focusing on policies and treating politicians as tools. The Sanders worship is pretty intense in this book; I like him too, but he's got serious problems (put a pin in that). Then you have his insistence that socialists don't really care about drawing sharp lines over who is a "real" socialist....followed by a reminder in a later section that we need to stop being dogmatic. Because yes, the left does in fact sometimes eat itself, focusing on narrow purity-politics that exclude potential allies and reinforce that fandom/personality cult that I mentioned above. Leftist circles can often be extremely hostile to any criticism of their actions or ideas, even from people overall sympathetic to their aims. I've watched Youtubers with radically leftist opinions get dubbed "centrists" simply because they argue that some socialists are too class reductionist. Which brings me to my last point - I like that he talks about intersectionality and the absolute need of the Left to care about what it often disparagingly calls "identity politics," and since I suspect this book is likely only to be read by already-converted, I'm glad someone is voicing that sentiment. Because hell know a lot of socialists don't. And it doesn't sit well with me for him to promote, multiple times, Chapo Freakin' Trap House as a "witty" group, when they frequently pepper in racism and sexism into their commentary. Another major unaddressed criticism of the general left is that it isn't friendly to people of color, women, LGBT individuals, or people with disabilities precisely because you have (1) leftists who dismiss all our concerns as a distraction from the "real" problems, or (2) leftists who put up with the former out of a sense of ideological/class solidarity. I get the need to build a unified left, but if you make its main representatives be white men, make the environment hostile to anyone who isn't...well, then you get Bernie Sanders' failure to rope in black voters, without whom we will never take over the Democratic Party. All of this is why, for all that I advocate socialist ideas, I'm often reluctant to call myself a socialist. I'll say I'm anti-capitalist, or post-capitalist, or a Roddenberry-ian if I want to give a more positive image of what I want. In fact, there's a part of me that feels like we should ditch the socialist label and its baggage and just go with that last one; Star Trek: TNG was a great positive example of a potential future (though not without its flaws), and I think we could get people invested in a program that aims to end work-for-survival, end scarcity, end discrimination, end nationalism, and create a world of work-as-choice, abundance, diversity, and unity.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jake

    As someone who begrudgingly finds myself a member of the DSA I'm in search for writers that speak to why I joined their ranks. Robinson fashions himself, quite literally as he dresses often ridiculously, as a Oscar Wilde for the post aughts. Wilde famous for being a socialist because capitalism made poor people look ugly. Clearly a utopian, I don't know what is actually viable about what is written here and what isn't. There's an undercurrent throughout this book of being skeptical of authority As someone who begrudgingly finds myself a member of the DSA I'm in search for writers that speak to why I joined their ranks. Robinson fashions himself, quite literally as he dresses often ridiculously, as a Oscar Wilde for the post aughts. Wilde famous for being a socialist because capitalism made poor people look ugly. Clearly a utopian, I don't know what is actually viable about what is written here and what isn't. There's an undercurrent throughout this book of being skeptical of authority and use of power by our current elites. This seems naive to how revolutions are actually successful in practice. Most new power structures share their framework to what came before them and most socialists don't understand this. The problem with this book and the DSA as I see it more generally is that it was written for the type of person they seem to generally attract now. They in large part are attracting those who successfully passed the IQ test laid down by business leaders. This focuses a lot less of critical thinking and more on information accumulation. Arguments are not refined and explored from each angle but lists are generated and check boxes are to be ticked. Not only is this dangerous as it promotes people absurdly saying things like "you didn't check my box!" I don't think being anti-war or intersectional are inherent to socialism but those are boxes ticked along the way. I'm not convinced these are inherent to socialism and the author doesn't attempt to explain himself for their inclusion.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bakari

    It’s very refreshing and important that this book is published, especially in a time when we have democratic socialist candidate, Bernie Sanders, building a movement for progressive change in this country and using his platform to take the Democratic party in the direction is should be going in support of the working class. Nathan Robinson is a very astute and well read writer, critic, and socialist who not only explains the various, often competing views of socialism, but he also makes very sou It’s very refreshing and important that this book is published, especially in a time when we have democratic socialist candidate, Bernie Sanders, building a movement for progressive change in this country and using his platform to take the Democratic party in the direction is should be going in support of the working class. Nathan Robinson is a very astute and well read writer, critic, and socialist who not only explains the various, often competing views of socialism, but he also makes very sound responses to those who criticize socialism. For too long the socialist left has not always been very good about explaining socialism without using traditional Marxist terms like “proletariat,” and “dialectical materialism.” You’re not going to find such terminology in this book. It’s not because Marxist terminology is not useful, but such terms not required (though useful) to understand the visions and soundness of a socialist political economy. Socialism essentially seeks to make sure that the basic needs of all people are met, and that we are not exploited and deprived of our human rights and dignity by being controlled by the forces market driven capitalism. Socialism does not mean giving away everything for free or not having private property and rights, it means that everything doesn’t require a price tag at the point of need. We can actually collectivize our taxes and our labor to work in the common good of one another. I’m not sure how much this book will reach its intended audience—people who are conservative or liberal, but I don’t think it’s also useful for people like myself who support and advocate socialism. Nathan provides sound arguments for discussing socialism with people who criticize it. The book also references dozens of other books, magazines, podcasts and other media that we can consume to develop a better understanding of how socialism can make societies better. This book, along with Health Justice Now: Single Payer and What Comes Next are two of my favorite books about visions for change. It’s so important that we not only read and talk about capitalism, but that we also talk about the system, but also more importantly how it should be changed. Lastly, I like this book because Robinson makes it somewhat personal. He’s so correct when he says people who advocate socialism are typically caring individuals who hate to see people oppressed, exploited and marginalized. Though it’s cliché to say it, we do “think a better world is possible”, and we won’t keep our mouths shut about the need for change. We’re socialist because we give a damn.

  18. 4 out of 5

    C. S.

    A boomer friend of mine recently asked me if "all you young people" really want a socialist society. I said I couldn't speak for several entire generations (I'm almost 30), but that personally all I was dead certain of was that "I'm real tired of capitalism." In Why You Should Be A Socialist, Robinson approaches a topic that has the capacity to overwhelm, depress, confuse, and bore with an incredible amount of humor, compassion, and clarity. The arguments are levelheaded and cover and discuss sev A boomer friend of mine recently asked me if "all you young people" really want a socialist society. I said I couldn't speak for several entire generations (I'm almost 30), but that personally all I was dead certain of was that "I'm real tired of capitalism." In Why You Should Be A Socialist, Robinson approaches a topic that has the capacity to overwhelm, depress, confuse, and bore with an incredible amount of humor, compassion, and clarity. The arguments are levelheaded and cover and discuss several common counterarguments. I'm still not sure I identify as a socialist, but this book is an incredible read and I highly recommend it. And jfc, there are no words for the depths to which I despise Ayn Rand.

  19. 5 out of 5

    James Hendrickson

    This is a well reasoned, thoughtful overview of socialism. The author raises some good points that I hadn’t thought of before. I think the thought experiment of starting with what a utopian society should look like and then asking what can be done to get there was a different way to approach the world. When looking at it this way there are a number of things that can and should be done differently. I also hadn’t thought of the small change to our election process of rank ordering your candidates This is a well reasoned, thoughtful overview of socialism. The author raises some good points that I hadn’t thought of before. I think the thought experiment of starting with what a utopian society should look like and then asking what can be done to get there was a different way to approach the world. When looking at it this way there are a number of things that can and should be done differently. I also hadn’t thought of the small change to our election process of rank ordering your candidates which would allow for third party candidates to get a representative share of votes without playing the spoiler in the American two party system. This is a very thought provoking book that is worth reading to understand the far left and to realize how absent this view is in the American discourse.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Bertucci

    A book that truly cemented to myself why I am a democratic socialist. If you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sky

    Wish I could give everyone I know a copy of this, whether committed socialist, skeptic, or on the fence. Nathan Robinson is easily one of my favorite writers out there. His argument in this book is directed more towards skeptics or those with questions, but I would equally recommend it for those already converted to socialism, in order to help strengthen your own arguments and know how to challenge skeptics around you. The book covers just about every argument out there that tries to discredit s Wish I could give everyone I know a copy of this, whether committed socialist, skeptic, or on the fence. Nathan Robinson is easily one of my favorite writers out there. His argument in this book is directed more towards skeptics or those with questions, but I would equally recommend it for those already converted to socialism, in order to help strengthen your own arguments and know how to challenge skeptics around you. The book covers just about every argument out there that tries to discredit socialism, and easily exposes the flaws in these arguments. He also spends some time exposing the flaws of other ideologies, like liberalism and conservatism. Written simply enough for a beginner who wants to understand the basic principles of socialism without getting too deep in the weeds of theory, but also engaging enough for those of us who’ve graduated beyond a beginners’ level of socialist reading. Highly recommended, regardless of where you’re at ideologically, or how far along you’ve come in your intellectual journey. As someone who’s been on the socialist left for a while now, and who needs no introduction on socialism, this was still a page-turner for me (blew right through it in just three days), and is now at the top of my reading recommendations for those wanting to learn more about socialism, what it is, and why they should be one.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Zoe

    Cute, easy to read, funny, basic primer on socialist ethics and general concepts.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Raymond Xu

    This book had ZERO effect on my view on socialism. And to be fair, I'm supportive of democratic socialism / the Bernie Sanders platform. I'm also open to socialism (perhaps even pro-socialism!), in a more general sense. The book is split into three parts: what are the modern day problems with American society, what is socialism, and what are other political ideologies? To match this theme, I'm going to break my complaints down into three parts: not explaining how socialism would solve modern day This book had ZERO effect on my view on socialism. And to be fair, I'm supportive of democratic socialism / the Bernie Sanders platform. I'm also open to socialism (perhaps even pro-socialism!), in a more general sense. The book is split into three parts: what are the modern day problems with American society, what is socialism, and what are other political ideologies? To match this theme, I'm going to break my complaints down into three parts: not explaining how socialism would solve modern day American problems, not fully explaining what branch of very broad government branch "socialism" he is advocating, and poor comparisons to other political ideologies. First and foremost, there is a fundamental problem with saying the USA needs to change to socialism from capitalism by mentioning issues that don't involve SOCIAL OWNERSHIP and the STATE. When I hear Robinson go in depth about why you should be a socialist because of racial inequality, sex/gender inequality, animals (?), private prison management, etc, I cannot see how any of these policies are strictly tied to any particular political ideology. True, modern day political fights revolve around these topics, but it does not pertain to social ownership of the means of production aka the definition of socialism. I feel like I found a hidden Bernie Sanders speech inside the first third of this book. There are some good parts on how greed makes corporations do things like Coca-Cola or Purdue Pharmacy, explanations of problems with American modern day wealth imbalance. I'd like to see a much stronger arguments for ideal capital distribution for maximum utility, which is a core idea of socialism itself. Robinson talks about utilitarianism for like a paragraph, but this is absolutely essential for setting up the foundation argument for "why socialism". The core of socialism is not "Purdue Pharmacy tricked the American public into becoming addicted to opioids" even though we can rally around that. Second, Robinson's brand of socialism remains very vaguely defined, at many points not defined, and at many points contradictory. Robinson defines at many points supporting a highly democratic socialism, and at other points supports "libertarian socialism". One CANNOT simply support both democratic socialism and libertarian socialism, as Robinson does in this book. Democratic socialism supports electing officials, whereas libertarian socialism borders on anarchy since there is a very weak state, and when there is democracy it is direct democracy, not through elected officials. Fundamentally, libertarian socialism supports focusing on reducing the size and influence of the state, which democratic socialism does not. The only distinction made here is "not authoritarian socialism", but I think it is never addressed why authoritarian socialism is inherently bad. Sure, previous authoritarian socialist regimes failed, but if the true goal is maximizing utility of all people by evenly distributing capital, then issues revolving government power is secondary? Analysis on the size or influence of the state is not done. It is just presumed that you agree that big authoritarian states are bad. Core pieces of socialism are not discussed at length, like common ownership of property. Robinson explains how private ownership of property originated via military force, an unfounded claim, or theft. This is true. But that doesn't alleviate the duties of explaining how common ownership would work. Then, Robinson says that we should spread shares from corporations into the individuals that work for those corporations. Finally, a core piece of socialism, coming to the light of understanding... no. Robinson does not detail how, under this spread ownership of shares, why there would be motivations to invest, and why there would be motivations to found a corporation. Instead, we waste time on non socialism/capitalism related issues, like how immigrants should be able to vote, how we shouldn't have borders, stating that the social ownership of shares would prevent the Amazon rain forest from being depleted (how?), and how we need to protect the environment. Robinson's library example is perfect for summing up how the meat of this argument is just air. "We should run off the library model, where we make a public investment using taxation, and get more return than the investment than what we put in." Then goes on a ramble about how things in libraries like knowledge and restrooms shouldn't be paid for. This is the argument for why we should have government at all, not socialism. Robinson argues for socialism by saying a public good should be ... public. What? Third, Robinson's arguments for why socialism is better than "the other ideologies". A good piece of this chapter was "how to defend socialism from common retorts of your friends". If the book actually taught you what good reasons to support socialism were, you wouldn't need to memorize how to defend socialism to your friends in a bulleted list. Laughable. A terribly ineffective ramble in here about how if you support any other ideology than socialism, then you "have no empathy". Oh, and also, talking about how the modern day left is fractured, and needs an ideology to gather around as a platform. As if the left wasn't divided enough, Robinson argues "unify around socialism", for no reason other than "it's the only platform with actual viewpoints on issues". There is some discussion here for why left/right bill passing never changes the system. However, Robinson never takes on an official reform or revolution stance. Are we just to vote in several socialists, and see if they change the system? Conservatism is summed up as "people who have power worry about it getting taken away", which is incredibly partisan, and doesn't actually well define whose power. Again, we need to focus on clearly defining the STATE and SOCIAL OWNERSHIP for defining who has the power, how is it getting taken away, and who is it given to. Recap: Robinson doesn't explain socialism, and probably isn't even supporting a socialist ideology using the textbook definition of social ownership of the means of production. At any level of socialism understanding, do NOT read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Vince

    Worth the read Nathaniel is accessible, which means he doesn't talk down to you. He cares deeply about our country and wants to make it better; he isn't afraid to show his cards, even embracing the label "bleeding heart." His book encourages everyone to wish for a world where they want to live and fight to make it a reality. 5 Stars

  25. 5 out of 5

    Cristie Underwood

    This is a great resource for anyone that has questions about socialism and the impact it has. So many people have a negative view and don’t know much about it. The author really broke down the benefits of socialism in easy to understand language. Highly recommend!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Justus

    After disliking the very bad Why Not Socialism? I felt vaguely honor-bound to try to find a book that did a better job with a similar argument. This book is better but that's a pretty low bar. It just barely escapes a 1-star by rating by having some parts that are at least interesting and useful. Overall, though, it is nearly a complete failure. I say it is a failure because it never tries to deliver on its title question. If the cover said "Why you should be a left wing Democrat?" you'd be close After disliking the very bad Why Not Socialism? I felt vaguely honor-bound to try to find a book that did a better job with a similar argument. This book is better but that's a pretty low bar. It just barely escapes a 1-star by rating by having some parts that are at least interesting and useful. Overall, though, it is nearly a complete failure. I say it is a failure because it never tries to deliver on its title question. If the cover said "Why you should be a left wing Democrat?" you'd be closer to what this book is actually about. Robinson spends all of the book trying to convince you to be a leftist (as opposed to a liberal) and none of the book convincing you that socialism is good or necessary step beyond mere leftism. The book starts out terribly. Honestly, just skip the introduction and first two chapters. They can all be summed up as "we do not yet live in a perfect world". Just listing problems is not the same as making a case that socialism is the solution to the problems. Indeed, for some of the problems he describes it is unclear what socialism has to do with fixing them. He gives the story of a man who commits murder in prison (Robinson writes that "Pruett was accused of killing a prison guard" but, in fact, Pruett was convicted by a court of law and a jury of his peers). Does socialism not punish murder? Or, if Pruett was wrongfully convicted, does socialism somehow insure that there are no wrongful convictions ever again? Why does being a socialist mean you are an environmentalist or against factory farming or in favor of animal rights? All of those things extremely orthogonal to being a socialist. Over half way through the book he actually writes So far, all I have really argued is that outrage is necessary. And it is frustrating that's gone so long without trying to address the title question; the whole reason you picked up this book. A socialist is, first and foremost, not just perturbed by injustice, but horrified by it, really truly sickened by it in a way that means they can’t stop thinking about it. I was reminded of the "moral foundations" theory from The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion and its claim that liberals are hard-wired to only care about 2 moral foundations: harm & fairness. Whereas conservatives put weight on other moral foundations, including loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Robinson is essentially arguing being a socialist requires a genetic predisposition to not care about the other moral foundations. Along the way, he creates caricature of the leftist. "They can't stop thinking about it". If you spend even a single moment thinking about something other than the injustices around the world, you aren't a real leftist. But who could measure up to that impossible standard? And who would want to? You’ve got to know what you’re striving for [...] Utopias matter because they help us understand what we really want out of life. It seems that Robinson's belief in socialism is reducible to his utopianism and his belief that utopianism is necessary. This kind of half-baked thinking is systematically demolished in The Tyranny of the Ideal: Justice in a Diverse Society, leaving Robinson without his sole positive argument in favor of socialism. He never really mounts a case for why being a Franklin D. Roosevelt or Elizabeth Warren (both people he mentions in the book as having good policies but definitely not being socialists) isn't enough. What is it that requires full socialism per se as opposed to merely constraining unbridled capitalism with laws & regulations?

  27. 5 out of 5

    David Stephens

    The Simpsons was my favorite show as a kid. I watched it religiously every evening, to the point I must have seen every episode at least a dozen times and annoyed my parents to no end. Yet, there was one episode from an early season that I always passed on. In it, Lisa is merely sad, and no one can figure out why until Marge gets her to explain the cause of her feelings. She can't understand why some people have things and others don't. At the time, I didn't get it. I didn't think it was funny. The Simpsons was my favorite show as a kid. I watched it religiously every evening, to the point I must have seen every episode at least a dozen times and annoyed my parents to no end. Yet, there was one episode from an early season that I always passed on. In it, Lisa is merely sad, and no one can figure out why until Marge gets her to explain the cause of her feelings. She can't understand why some people have things and others don't. At the time, I didn't get it. I didn't think it was funny. And, actually, it made me a little bit angry. And yet, so many years later, I find this is one of the episodes I now most readily identify with. This is the starting point, according to Nathan J. Robinson, for becoming a socialist: having a revulsion toward the fact that so many people (and animals) seem to be suffering needlessly when there are relatively simple solutions that could be put in place to fix these things. There are many details, variations, and disagreements that come after that, but this basic moral reaction, along with some form of economic democracy and utopian vision, forms the core of socialist thought. Robinson does define and contextualize many of the leftist terms being thrown around nowadays—"democratic socialist," "social democrat," "neoliberal"—but he admits too many people have too many different ideas of these things to pin them down successfully. It's better to talk about specific goals and policies than to try and label everyone to their liking. Instead, he mostly turns his attention to the typical arguments people make against socialism. And he does a very good job identifying and responding to them: from central planning (what about libertarian socialists?) to the greed allegedly inherent in human nature (we're all mixed bundles of selfishness and altruism) to Venezuela (which is less socialist by all objective measures than Norway and other flourishing European countries). But considering he is aiming this book at people who are "extremely dubious about socialism," there are some places where I don't think his arguments will land. Perhaps the most noticeable is when he encourages people to imagine the wildest utopian society they can and suggests that these are, for the most part, the places socialism can eventually lead us. While I understand and agree that his argument is that we have to envision our destination before we can begin our journey, I think the notion that this is all quixotic dreaming devoid of reality is too engrained in people's minds for this to have much effect. Oh, well. It's one book. Maybe it can plant a few seeds.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Mayer

    This was an absolute joy to read! Like many people, I was suspicious of the 'socialist' label, but Robinson is such a compelling writer and gives such a forceful argument that he convinced me to wear the term as a badge of honor! Bookmarks (quotes are not exact): ""To be fair, a sliding Kevlar door does sound like the thing you might need once the marauding proletarian hoards discover how you live."" ""Those who murder people get sent to prison, while those who merely let people die get put on the This was an absolute joy to read! Like many people, I was suspicious of the 'socialist' label, but Robinson is such a compelling writer and gives such a forceful argument that he convinced me to wear the term as a badge of honor! Bookmarks (quotes are not exact): ""To be fair, a sliding Kevlar door does sound like the thing you might need once the marauding proletarian hoards discover how you live."" ""Those who murder people get sent to prison, while those who merely let people die get put on the Forbes rich list."" ""We should measure our achievements against our potential. It doesn't matter if far more people were homeless 50 years ago than are today - the question is why we still have homelessness."" ""On a basic level, I am a socialist because I simply cannot fathom reconciling myself to a society where so many needlessly suffer because of circumstances beyond their control; where human dignity is distributed on the basis of luck and a social caste system is allowed to permeate every aspect of daily life; and where all of this is considered perfectly normal and acceptable in a civilization that has split the atom and sent people to the Moon."" -Luke Savage ""To be a socialist is to take part in a tradition that is intelligent, humane, and honorable."" ""It's funny how much reverence the US constitution gets considering it's a wholly illegitimate document. Women, African Americans, and Native Americans, despite together comprising the majority of the population at the time of the country's founding, did not get to participate in the document's drafting and ratification. If the basic rules of government were set up without consulting 'We the people' then what respect do those people owe to those rules?"" ""When groups form exclusive political alliances moving away from traditional broad based party politics, it ultimately makes it harder to fight politically for people's common interests and produces a fragmented left."" ""The left says we have a 'duty to support people who refuse to support themselves.' I think to myself, 'I'm sorry, but we DO have a duty.' It's not a pleasant duty and in many ways not a fair one, but that's what being a better person requires."" ""I think people who say things like 'humans are naturally selfish' are saying more about themselves than they are about humanity."" [In response to the critique that if you're not a liberal before you're 30, you don't have a heart, and if you're not a conservative after you're 30, you don't have a brain] ""This slogan still looks like something cruel people made up to rationalize their heartlessness.""

  29. 4 out of 5

    Windydistance

    I'm torn on this book. I've read a lot of Robinson's writing on Current Affairs and I think he's an insightful, knowledgeable, and occasionally very funny writer. However, I think he maybe should have taken a few more years to work on this one. Robinson is at his best when he's articulating conventional political wisdom, and offering clever challenges or rhetorically-impressive refutations. I also appreciate his efforts to situate the modern-day DSA in a long tradition of socialist thinkers and a I'm torn on this book. I've read a lot of Robinson's writing on Current Affairs and I think he's an insightful, knowledgeable, and occasionally very funny writer. However, I think he maybe should have taken a few more years to work on this one. Robinson is at his best when he's articulating conventional political wisdom, and offering clever challenges or rhetorically-impressive refutations. I also appreciate his efforts to situate the modern-day DSA in a long tradition of socialist thinkers and activists. However, I think he stumbles when it comes to thornier questions of theory, or of articulating positive visions of what socialism, fundamentally, is. The book includes only the most cursory discussion of Marx, and offers little critical engagement with differing visions of socialism and anarchism discussed. In particular, I think Robinson makes a mistake when he locates the 'socialistic impulse', so to speak, in a feeling of compassion for others. This is certainly a part of why people become socialists. But it strikes me as precisely the kind of definition that would appeal to a Yale and Harvard graduate--one that smuggles in a particular perspective of injustice as something that happens to other people. I don't mean this to suggest that Robinson looks down on others, or does not discuss intersectional issues throughout the book. He certainly does. However, I think it misrepresents socialism as being about a deep emotional response to the suffering of others, as opposed to what is often, in many cases, a difficult struggle to wrest powers away from antagonistic class interests. That being said, I think Robinson is very successful in other dimensions. He offers myriad stats, charts, and graphs to win over the empirically-minded, and strikes up an amicable, if sometimes unpleasantly snarky, tone. I think this book will appeal very much to what I assume is its target audience: politically disaffected young men looking for an accessible, unpretentious, introduction to socialism. I can't help but think, however, that a book like this would be better as a collection of essays. I'd love to have a book that preserved Robinson's charm and wit in dealing with culture war issues, and visions of utopia, without subjecting the reader to his treatments of the theory and practice of socialism.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Gavin Esdale

    Loved it, and almost everyone should read it. Okay, okay, I'll try to be more detailed than that. The book is, as advertised, a primer on democratic socialism that author Nathan J. Robinson wrote for an audience of those who are skeptical about its tenets. On the basis of delivering on that promise, the book wins. Not really a surprise, considering that Robinson writes wonderfully, keeping things accessible, witty, and sharp throughout. The book is helpfully divided into sections detailing the h Loved it, and almost everyone should read it. Okay, okay, I'll try to be more detailed than that. The book is, as advertised, a primer on democratic socialism that author Nathan J. Robinson wrote for an audience of those who are skeptical about its tenets. On the basis of delivering on that promise, the book wins. Not really a surprise, considering that Robinson writes wonderfully, keeping things accessible, witty, and sharp throughout. The book is helpfully divided into sections detailing the history, principles, and pragmatics of democratic socialism which never feel condescending. Robinson's earnestness and humanity shine throughout, as does his impeccable sourcing of content and his ability to convey all of this information clearly and courageously. Socialism definitely still rings alarm bells in the minds of many, but Robinson is actively inviting those who denounce it to take up the challenge of contending with it, and good luck to those would-be challengers (who never seem particularly eager to take Robinson on in a formal debate, curiously enough). I didn't go into this as one who was particularly skeptical, but I do like my own personal convictions to be well-considered and I finished this book feeling much more confident in my knowledge of the material. Much love to the chapter devoted to debunking the more common and effective of the anti-socialism talking points, and a righteous fist raised for the chapter that eviscerates contemporary conservatism for the nasty and inhumane thing that it is. I loved this book, but I can also say that it isn't for everyone. If you're well-versed in democratic socialism, you probably won't learn much new from it, but I would still recommend it for Robinson's enjoyable writing. For the non-converts, you should read it because it's uplifting, challenging but not intimidating, accessible, fun, and in this bleak chapter of world history, it actually viscerally reminded me that a better world is entirely possible and that we should strive for it. It's a joy and I recommend it sincerely. Also, Robinson himself went to the effort of seriously critiquing his own book from four alternative perspectives, including that of a manatee. I cannot conceive of higher praise than simply noting this as a fact that exists.

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