A sharp, compelling collection of social and cultural criticism.

TOO FAT, TOO SLUTTY, TOO LOUD

THE RISE AND REIGN OF THE UNRULY WOMAN

A BuzzFeed culture writer examines how some high-profile women defy cultural stereotypes about femininity.

Donald Trump’s recent election as president marked “the beginning of a backlash [against women] that has been quietly brewing for years. Petersen (Scandals of Classic Hollywood, 2014) offers thought-provoking profiles of controversial women who “question, interrogate or otherwise challenge the status quo.” She opens with tennis star Serena Williams, who defied the sport that made her famous not only by being black, but also by “her body…her personality, her resilience and her fortitude.” While winning championships and lucrative endorsements, Williams has also had to fight against tennis’ “double standard of decorum” that gives more room to male players to display their anger on the court than it does women. Like Williams, perennial rebel Madonna is also known for her outspokenness and daring. But as she approaches her 60th birthday, ageism has become an issue. Rather than accede to cultural norms and gradually withdraw from public life, however, “Oldanna” dares to make the statement that an aging female body can still be “sexual, powerful and visible,” despite the fact she built her career on celebrating youth and beauty. Among the most problematic of all the women Petersen examines is Caitlyn Jenner. In her pre-transition life as the ultra-masculine Bruce Jenner, she was the father of a famous reality TV family. Since her much-heralded coming out, she has adopted a culturally palatable mode of femininity, which she has coupled with a desire to deepen her understanding of gender nonconformity. But as the author points out, “Jenner’s openness” to such explorations has come at a cost, including low ratings for and the eventual cancellation of her reality TV show. Through incisive analysis of the ways in which contemporary society polices femininity, Petersen reveals the fraught relationship between women and celebrity. The author also profiles Melissa McCarthy, Hillary Clinton, and Lena Dunham, among others.

A sharp, compelling collection of social and cultural criticism.

Pub Date: June 20, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-57685-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Plume

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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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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