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"It's difficult to convey just how strange life in the third decade of the third millennium has become," Michiko Kakutani writes in "The Great Wave," her cultural survey of the discontented present.

The insight is truthful (the times are strange) if broad (when were they not?). She takes on a vast theme in this propulsive book. But like the storming waters in the Hokusai print on the cover of "Great Wave," the topic of chaotic change is so powerful it comes close to overwhelming the book.

The new book reads as a sequel to "The Death of Truth," Kakutani's 2018 warning about how disinformation had chipped away at objective truth and set the stage for American authoritarianism. In the new book, she is both embedded in the contemporary tumult and casting an eye backward. Viewing today as a "hinge moment" and frightened by what she sees (inequality, polarization, violence), Kakutani looks at other such moments in history. What she finds is sobering, though not without hope.

In one of those moments, disruptions that flowed from the invention of the printing press, she finds present-day parallels. Just as the internet supercharged crackpot conspiracy theories and access to basic knowledge, Gutenberg's invention spread superstition and pseudoscience while also kick-starting the Age of Reason. Kakutani expresses optimism that like in the past, we can find ways of "grappling with the mayhem created by new technologies"] such as artificial intelligence.

Many hinge moments involve culture and the arts. Kakutani may no longer be the New York Times' most-feared book critic, but a critic she remains. She brings effortless erudition to one perceptive segment about how, in changing times like fin-de-siecle Europe and late Cold War America, artists from painter Gustav Klimt to novelist Philip Roth pivoted inward "as a way to grapple with an intractable and overwhelming reality."

In another, she writes about how, in the new millennium, non-white artists and previously overlooked genres like science fiction "have moved from the margins to the mainstream." Still, this focus on culture can feel off-topic. Kakutani is correct that "The Wire" and "The Sopranos" "changed television storytelling"with critiques of the American dream but her inclusion of such subjects can feel beside the point.

There are numerous moments in "Great Wave" where Kakutani's thesis is hard to discern. A chapter on modern activism hits expected points — Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring — but is less an analysis of how grassroots groups harness technology to organize than a celebration of progressive activism.

Kakutani's concern about the history-proven potential for the disarray of hinge moments to be harnessed by fascists is well-founded; she convincingly deploys Hannah Arendt for that argument. But her narrowly progressive lens limits the range of outcomes, positive and negative, that she sees for our current era of strange.

In some ways, "The Great Wave" is as chaotic as its subject. In that sense, Kakutani's all-of-the-above approach could feel appropriate. Because she is such a confident and compelling writer, she always carries the reader along — even if it's sometimes in the wrong direction.

Chris Barsanti has written books on film, history and pop culture. A member of the National Book Critics Circle and Online Film Critics Society, he lives in St. Paul.

The Great Wave: The Era of Radical Disruption and the Rise of the Outsider

By: Michiko Kakutani.

Publisher: Crown, 256 pages, $30.