Cry Havoc (Hardcover)

Charlottesville and American Democracy Under Siege

By Michael Signer

PublicAffairs, 9781541736153, 400pp.

Publication Date: March 10, 2020

List Price: 28.00*
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The former mayor of Charlottesville delivers a vivid, first-person chronicle of the terror and mayhem of the August 2017 "Unite the Right" event, and shows how issues of extremism are affecting not just one city but the nation itself.

The deadly invasion of Charlottesville, Virginia, by white nationalist militias in August 2017 is a microcosm of the challenges facing American democracy. No one is better placed to tell the story of what really happened, and to draw out its larger significance, than Michael Signer, then Charlottesville's mayor.

Signer, a lawyer, historian, political theorist, and public servant, sets the events on the ground--the lead-up to August's "Unite the Right" rally, the days of the weekend itself, the aftermath-into the larger context of a country struggling to find its way through the sturm und drang of the Trump era.

He confronts some of the most pressing questions of our moment. How do we:
  • Reconcile free speech with the need for public order?
  • Maintain the values of pragmatism, compromise, even simple civility, in a time of intensification of extremes on the right and the left?
  • Address systemic racism through our public spaces and memorials?
  • Do something about the widespread disaffection with institutions and a democracy that seems to be faltering and turning on itself?

The siege of Charlottesville shows how easily our communities can be taken hostage by forces intent on destroying democratic norms and institutions. But Signer concludes with a stirring call for optimism, pointing out, with evidence drawn from Charlottesville and work it has spurred since, that even this tragedy contains an opportunity to bolster democracy from within and defend our very ability to govern.

About the Author

The Hon. Michael Signer, the award-winning former mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia, is a public scholar, executive, and practicing attorney.

From 2016 to 2018, Signer served as mayor of Charlottesville, a AAA-bond-rated city of nearly fifty thousand. He has served as an executive and general counsel at a major Virginia technology firm, as counsel to governor Mark Warner of Virginia, as the national security director on the 2008 John Edwards presidential campaign, and as the chair of the Emergency Food Network in Virginia. He has been an instructor at the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and the University of California. He was a candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia in 2009 and has received senior appointments from three Virginia governors. In 2018, he founded and chaired Communities Overcoming Extremism, a bipartisan capacity-building project for leaders in the public and private sectors and the sponsor of the "Overcoming Extremism" podcast.

He is the author of two previous books, Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies and Becoming Madison: The Extraordinary Origins of the Least Likely Founding Father. He has written opinion pieces and essays for The New York Times, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, Time, Vox, and Democracy. He has been profiled by NPR, CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Guardian and interviewed by Meet the Press, Face the Nation, The Rachel Maddow Show, and NPR's Morning Edition. He has received awards from organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, the University of California D.C. Alumni Association, the American Society for Yad Vashem, and the Matthew Shepard Foundation. He was recognized by The Forward magazine in its "Forward 50 2018" list of the fifty most influential Jewish leaders in America. He is also a member of the 2018 class of the Aspen Institute's Rodel Fellows.

Praise For Cry Havoc: Charlottesville and American Democracy Under Siege

"[D]eeply introspective...A complex, disturbing, valuable tale of racial disharmony, government failure, and one man's frantic attempts to save the day."
Kirkus Reviews


"An important study of the intellectual and psychological development of a young Madison who believed that leaders should forsake self-interest in promoting the common good."—Library Journal

"Our nation owes huge debts to Madison, and today's civic leaders owe a huge debt to Signer for reminding us why."—Tim Kaine, US Senator

"Superb ... lively and engaging."—Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America Foundation

"Sound and revealing."—Wall Street Journal

"Intellectual history at its essential biography of an essential Founder."—Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Engaging...Highly recommended."—CHOICE

"A bull's-eye."—Richard Brookhiser, The Daily Beast

"Highly readable and often insightful."—Kirkus Reviews