STORM LAKE

A CHRONICLE OF CHANGE, RESILIENCE, AND HOPE FROM A HEARTLAND NEWSPAPER

An impassioned, significant book from a newsman who made a difference.

A feisty newspaper editor speaks from the heart and the heartland.

In 2017, Cullen, editor and half-owner (with his brother, the founder) of the twice-weekly newspaper the Storm Lake Times, won a Pulitzer Prize for, as the judges wrote, “editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.” Those qualities are on ample display in the author’s first book, a hard-hitting, urgent, and eloquent portrait of his home town, “a dot of political blue” in a state that has emerged as a forecaster of national politics. Part memoir and family history, Cullen’s sharp political critique chronicles the dramatic changes and challenges faced by Storm Lake in the last four decades. Aiming to “print the truth and raise hell,” he has taken on issues such as pollution, climate change, gun rights, immigration, political corruption, and the inexorable advent of industrial agriculture, dominated by Monsanto and Koch Fertilizer, which has promoted “a way of doing business more sacred than the life of the community.” Abetted by politicians, corporate agriculture “got a green light to charge full speed ahead” until his newspaper’s reporting “revealed who pulls the marionette strings” in Iowa. An informed electorate, writes the author, must be willing to take on stewardship of the Earth: “It doesn’t cost billions more to let rivers run clean. It takes a conscience.” Besides exposing the fouling of lake and soil, his paper helped Storm Lake’s largely white community understand—and welcome—an influx of aspiring newcomers from around the world. Cullen excoriates the “brand of radical politics steeped in resentment” fomented by Donald Trump and Iowa’s Republican congressman Steve King, “the voice of the hardscrabble western part of the state that forever thinks it has been forgotten and neglected and flown over.” Trump’s victory in 2016, Cullen asserts, does not predict the outcome for 2018 or 2020. Iowans, he alerts Democrats, are “yearning for a revival message” rather than “the message that tears down.”

An impassioned, significant book from a newsman who made a difference.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-55887-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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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. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“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. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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