by Alexandra Robbins ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 6, 2002
Short on juicy secrets, long on tedium.
New Yorker staff writer Robbins (co-author, Quarterlife Crisis, not reviewed) stretches a few secrets of the Yale secret society into a dreary extended narrative.
Herself a Yale grad and member of another such club (unnamed), the author begins with a dull history of the university and its hidden organizations. In 1832, William Russell returned to New Haven after study in Germany bearing the fundamentals of a secret society that used a death's head as its logo. The Order of Skull and Bones became the school's most prestigious club and retains that aura today; the 15 men and (since 1991) women inducted each year join a long list of distinguished Americans. Robbins describes the organization’s bonding methods. A private building, called a tomb, provides a safe haven for members. (An art restorer who repaired food-splattered paintings reports that it looks like most frat houses but with thicker walls and more morbid furnishings.) Skull and Bones pins with the number “322” are worn by members; 1832 was the year of origin, and “2” refers to Yale’s branch being the second one after the Germans’. Skull and Bones time is five minutes ahead of the rest of the world, but 1,802 years behind; current documents are dated D200. Only seniors join; each year's group chooses the next 15. Influenced by Laurence Stern's Tristram Shandy, the initiation is led by a senior acting as Uncle Toby. Intense personal discussions and boodleball (soccer played in the large dining room) create lifelong bonds among the 15 and with their predecessors, known as Patriarchs. A month after his inauguration, George Bush senior invited the surviving Bonesmen of his year to a White House reunion. At least 58 members donated money to the presidential campaign of Bush junior (Bones 1968). Humorless and emotionally bland throughout, Robbins's prose sucks the vitality out of the story: privileged college students must be having more fun than we see here.Short on juicy secrets, long on tedium.
Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2002
Page Count: 240
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002
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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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