THE CYCLES OF AMERICAN HISTORY

Schlesinger's first book since his National Book Award-winning Robert Kennedy and His Times, this one exploring the grand themes which he sees weaving their way through American History. The two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner sees themes in contention over the meaning of America. The first, which he calls "the tradition," sprang from Christianity "as mediated by Augustine and Calvin." This strand made of the American experience an "implacable process of testing." As Schlesinger puts it. "Antiquity haunted the federal imagination." The second strand, termed "the counter tradition," also had roots in Calvinism and was represented in an emergent spirit of national destiny. Ever since our earliest history, Schlesinger suggests, our society has pitted realism against messianism, experiment against destiny. Pragmatically, this contention has resulted in alternating periods of reform and retrenchment. Schlesinger, mirroring the writings of economist Albert Hirschman, refers to these as periods of private interest and public purpose. Up to this point, Schlesinger's book appears to be Olympian in its objectivity. He is speaking as the aging historian emeritus who has earned the right to philosophize. However, suddenly the rest of the book degenerates into a slapdash (the book is actually a collection of updated, previously published essays) compendium of political writings aimed at demonstrating, for the most part, his own suspicion of the private-interest periods and his attraction to public purpose governments. He attempts, somewhat weakly, to demolish the idea that America's economic development was a direct result of the spirit of laissez-faire. The Founding Fathers, he states, were basically mercantilists who recognized the need for strong state action; Adam Smith, far from reflecting their ideals, actually wrote The Wealth of Nations to refute them. Undeniably a worthy and important work, if one keeps a wary eye out for the political bias.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 1986

ISBN: 0395957931

Page Count: 516

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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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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