A dizzying, tragicomic crash course in contemporary political incapacities.

THE BEST PEOPLE

TRUMP'S CABINET AND THE SIEGE ON WASHINGTON

A disheartening portrait of the alternately incompetent and corrupt Cabinet of the current administration.

In his scathing critique, Yahoo News national affairs correspondent Nazaryan (co-author: Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works, 2019, etc.) shows clearly how Donald Trump, with his “intentionally nonlinear presidency,” established a Cabinet consisting of crucially inexperienced individuals in public service, each remarkably unqualified to assume key pivotal decision-making roles in politics. In an assembly both “overwhelmingly male, and overwhelmingly old,” each member was lauded for their elite status and financial worth and, to the author, “wealth that was tacky and vulgar, wealth desperate for recognition, wealth that could only have been an insult to the average citizens whose tribune Trump vowed to be in Washington.” Nazaryan provides glaring examples of the rampant conflicts of interests and ethical red flags by meticulously detailing the head-scratching nomination hearings of Betsy DeVos, a fundamentalist conservative Christian with a skewed view of an education official’s priorities; Steve Mnuchin, secretary of the Treasury, who filed false financial asset disclosures upon his appointment; Rick Perry, the Department of Energy secretary who was blatantly unsure of what his position actually governed; wealthy investor-cum–commerce secretary Wilbur Ross; and Department of Housing and Urban Development nominee Ben Carson, who lacked any governmental or federal agency experience whatsoever. While this type of bureaucratic runaway train is not news to political watchdogs, the author manages to put a fresh spin on a dire situation with snarky humor and wince-inducing facts, though his intense contempt at times borders on unnecessary mudslinging. While he also identifies countless other impurities infiltrating the political stream—Priebus, Pruitt, Spicer, Bannon et al.—thankfully, he balances these out by documenting how imprudence and circumstance caught up to the pack and an incremental exodus ensued. Many others surprisingly remain in power, and Nazaryan is pleased to call out the remaining political “backbenchers of public and private life” whose tenures continue to crumble beneath the weight of unmet expectations.

A dizzying, tragicomic crash course in contemporary political incapacities.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-42143-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hachette

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 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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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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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