A provocative critique of the kind of modern, feel-good giving that addresses symptoms and not causes.

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THE ELITE CHARADE OF CHANGING THE WORLD

Give a hungry man a fish, and you get to pat yourself on the back—and take a tax deduction.

It’s a matter of some irony, John Steinbeck once observed of the robber barons of the Gilded Age, that they spent the first two-thirds of their lives looting the public only to spend the last third giving the money away. Now, writes political analyst and journalist Giridharadas (The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas, 2014, etc.), the global financial elite has reinterpreted Andrew Carnegie’s view that it’s good for society for capitalists to give something back to a new formula: It’s good for business to do so when the time is right, but not otherwise. Moreover, business has co-opted philanthropy, such that any “world-changing” efforts come with a proviso: “if you really want to change the world, you must rely on the techniques, resources, and personnel of capitalism.” Philanthropic initiatives to effect social change are no longer the province of public life but instead are private and voluntary, in keeping with free market individualism. Naturally, there’s a layer of consultants and in-house vice presidents to manage all this largess, which hinges on the premise that things aren’t so bad and just need to be nudged along. The author memorably calls this process “Pinkering,” after the ameliorist-minded psychologist Steven Pinker. “It beamed out so many thoughts about why the world was getting better in recent years,” Giridharadas writes of one initiative, “that its antennae failed to detect all the incoming transmissions about all the people whose lives were not improving, who didn’t care to be Pinkered because they knew what they were seeing.” So what’s so bad about private giving? Answers the author, when a society elects to help, it expresses democratic values with an eye to equality, while private giving is inherently unequal, a power relation between “the giver and the taker, the helper and the helped, the donor and the recipient.”

A provocative critique of the kind of modern, feel-good giving that addresses symptoms and not causes.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-451-49324-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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