Solid, eminently readable reportage that offers no comfort for readers on the lookout for that light at the end of the...

NIGHT DRAWS NEAR

IRAQ’S PEOPLE IN THE SHADOW OF AMERICA’S WAR

Sharp-edged profiles of ordinary Iraqis, many of whom, tired of awaiting democracy, are practicing resistance.

An Arabic-speaking Lebanese-American from Oklahoma, Washington Post reporter Shadid found it comparatively easy to move among the civilian population of Iraq, and among people who have been careful to guard their thoughts from officials of whatever uniform. Heralds of unintended consequences, American occupation forces in Iraq have made the country “an unwilling participant, drafted into a fight that it did not solicit”; the fall of Saddam, Shadid remarks, ushered in not the “liberation” that the administration held as a mantra, but instead confusion and indeterminacy. One bit of confusion is voiced by a bright Shiite woman named Yasmine, who wonders how it could be that the Donald Rumsfeld who came to Baghdad in 1983 full of praise for the Baathist regime of Saddam could return 20 years later with news that Saddam was a font of evil in the modern world. “Why didn’t the American officials see Saddam for what he was years earlier?” Shadid writes, voicing her wonder. Saddam Hussein was widely loathed and reviled, and few in Iraq had problems with his absence per se; still, the longer American boots remain on Iraqi ground, the more the Iraqi resistance grows, and Shadid charts some unlikely alliances among Iraqis divided along every possible axis but who agree that the occupiers must go. Says one, a sheik often at odds with the regime and often imprisoned as a consequence, “When I was in jail, we thought about how Saddam could be overthrown. I told the other prisoners, ‘If Bush gets rid of Saddam, I’ll paint a picture of him and hang it in my house.’ ” He adds that he will now do so only when he is certain that the Americans are liberators, not occupiers—as no one now seems sure, with no end in sight to the fighting, and no resolution of all that confusion.

Solid, eminently readable reportage that offers no comfort for readers on the lookout for that light at the end of the tunnel.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2005

ISBN: 0-8050-7602-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

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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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