Insightful—if sometimes debatable—portraits of countries on the cutting edge of social progress.

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HOW OTHER COUNTRIES CRACKED THE WORLD'S BIGGEST PROBLEMS (AND WE CAN TOO)

A fellow of the Institute of Public Administration Australia explores why 10 countries excel in certain areas, such as fostering innovation, promoting longevity, or achieving energy independence.

Intentionally or not, Wear updates for our age of hyperglobalization the approach used in the business classic In Search of Excellence. Each country gets a chapter that ends with tips on achieving its results, and most entries hit the mark. Iceland has “the world’s smallest gender gap,” owing partly to strong anti-discrimination policies, one of which says that women must hold at least 40% of the board seats at companies over a certain size. Wind turbine–rich Denmark is blazing renewable-energy trails—on windy days, Denmark “regularly generates more than 100 per cent of its electricity requirements from wind”—and South Korea’s universal health care helps explain why its average citizen has a life expectancy at birth that “exceeds that of every single English-speaking country.” With homegrown tech giants like Apple and Google, the U.S. is the innovator in chief, aided by collaborative ties among governments, businesses, and universities in places like Silicon Valley and “innovation districts” in Phoenix and other cities. Wear less plausibly praises Indonesia’s “successful transition from dictatorship to democracy,” even as “dark clouds” are gathering. When it comes to enlightened immigration policies, the author gives the nod to Australia—although it treats some new arrivals in “rather draconian” ways—instead of Canada, often called the world’s best country for immigrants, including in a 2019 U.S. News & World Report survey (Australia is listed fourth). A few iffy choices aside, Wear conversationally imparts a wealth of carefully analyzed facts that amount to far more than a glorified BuzzFeed list. He has much to say not just to policymakers, but to business and other travelers to countries he profiles.

Insightful—if sometimes debatable—portraits of countries on the cutting edge of social progress.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-78607-901-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Oneworld Publications

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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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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