by Alex Kotlowitz ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 1, 1998
A powerful record of an untimely death—perhaps suicide, more probably murder—in middle America, from the writer whose 1991 bestseller There Are No Children Here awoke the country to the reality of life in urban ghettoes. Former Wall Street Journal staff writer Kotlowitz stumbled on the story of Eric McGinnis's 1991 death in southern Michigan a year after the fact, when, he writes, he should have been covering the Los Angeles riots in the wake of the Rodney King trial. Yet he maintains, and rightly, that McGinnis's death speaks equal volumes about the condition of race relations in America. McGinnis, a black teenager, was found drowned in a narrow river separating two small communities, one white and well-to-do (St. Joseph), the other black and desperately poor (Benton Harbor). The facts of McGinnis's death are, Kotlowitz notes, ``elusive . . . And your perspective . . . is shaped by which side of the river you live on.'' Black teenagers maintained that whites in St. Joseph murdered McGinnis because he had dated a white girl; white teenagers blamed his death on rival gangs that had moved in from Chicago and Detroit. Both sides abandoned rational discourse to pursue vendettas, while their elders reverted to long-held notions of the virtues of sticking with one's own kind. There are no villains, exactly, in Kotlowitz's narrative, which is full of voices from both sides of the river and which at times takes on a Rashomon-like quality. Nor are there many heroes. And the victim himself, writes Kotlowitz, was just a regular kid, ``insecure, self-involved, and at times self-destructive,'' who may simply have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The trouble is, as Kotlowitz's book shows, America is full of wrong places, depending on the color of one's skin. This sad message lends McGinnis's death meaning, even if, as the author admits, we will probably never know what caused it. Kotlowitz has produced a skillfully rendered, thoughtful study of a divided country in microcosm. (Author tour)
Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1998
Page Count: 352
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1997
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by Paul Kalanithi ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 19, 2016
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
Page Count: 248
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 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
Page Count: 432
Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019
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