An occasionally amusing and insightful but scattershot exploration of midlife woes.



Calhoun (Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give, 2017, etc.) argues that Generation X women find middle age harder than those older or younger.

The author is in her 40s and not enjoying this stage of life. In her latest, she offers a combination of her memories, recycled research, and interviews with “women who, by virtue of being middle class, grew up with reasonable expectations of opportunity and success.” Calhoun is far more successful when she focuses on the problems of being a middle-aged American woman than when she attempts to define the nebulous differences between baby boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials and to convince readers that Gen Xers are suffering in ways that those older and younger aren't and won't. She defines Gen Xers as those born between 1965 and 1980 (data supplied by the Pew Research Center). On the basis of scanty evidence, Calhoun identifies them as being latchkey kids and children of divorce and hampered by receiving “two primary messages” from their childhoods as the offspring of overly optimistic feminist mothers: “One: Reach for the stars. Two: You're on your own.” The author argues, for example, that Gen X kids were uniquely scarred by being witnesses to the Challenger spaceship disaster, neglecting to acknowledge that other generations—if generations can even be separated so neatly—had their own public traumas. Much of the book is devoted to demonstrating the suffering of “her” generation: “Gen X women undergo a bone-deep, almost hallucinatory panic about money,” she writes, blaming this alleged state of mind on the fact that “much of Gen X graduated into a weak job market.” Calhoun is on firmer ground when she discusses the stressors that affect middle-aged women in general: menopause and the physical changes that precede it, the challenges of dealing with older (and less appreciative) children and aging parents, and the fact that aging inevitably means that some life choices are no longer viable.

An occasionally amusing and insightful but scattershot exploration of midlife woes.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4785-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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