Wide-ranging and surprisingly thoughtful.

SCANDALS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD

SEX, DEVIANCE, AND DRAMA FROM THE GOLDEN AGE OF AMERICAN CINEMA

The early days of Hollywood stars, gossip and damage control.

Blogger and first-time author Petersen (Film and Media Studies/Whitman Coll.) revisits several of Hollywood's well-known celebrity scandals and tells how the movie studios manufactured both stars' images and the public's desires. She opens with the obvious truism that a star's "actions, behavior, or lifestyle choices are never de facto scandalous; rather, they become scandalous when they violate the status quo in some way”—which is true for everyone. The author follows with an examination of the old-school "studio system," which created actors' names and biographies, as well as a host of "management strategies" (i.e., coverups) for actors' off-screen improprieties that entertainment publicists still use today to protect their investments—though the public at midcentury was far more gullible and easily manipulated. After this slow start, Petersen keenly analyzes the roles celebrities played—and still play—in our lives. She examines how the public allows “stars to take on our personal anxieties and shun[s] them when they fail to embody them in ways that please us." Chapters serve as case studies exploring and supporting the book's dual themes: that stars' images are "pliable…to our whims, hopes and fears" (particularly about class, female desire and gender roles) and how actresses were often presented and celebrated for appealing to men's sexual desires, then castigated for their brazen, unconventional behavior. In sections recounting the careers of stars who flamed out disastrously, including Dorothy Dandridge and Montgomery Clift, she incisively remarks on, especially, how Judy Garland's life—her studio controlled not only her public persona, but her romantic relationships and even her physical size during her teen years—"suggested hope and despair in equal measures," served up for the public's consumption. Not merely a rehash of salacious old Hollywood gossip, Petersen revivifies flattened images of Hollywood icons, including Fatty Arbuckle, Mae West, Humphrey Bogart and Marlon Brando, among others.

Wide-ranging and surprisingly thoughtful.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-14-218067-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Plume

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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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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