With such relevance to fractured late-capitalist America, Ehrenreich’s work warrants renewed attention.

HAD I KNOWN

COLLECTED ESSAYS

A compilation of the polemics and journalism of Ehrenreich, showcasing her stylistic evolution and social prescience.

The author is well known for her barbed magazine pieces and bestselling books (most notably, Nickel and Dimed), but she earned her chops as a freelancer. In the introduction, she reflects on this, noting how the literary economy that allowed her to establish her career has become atomized and unstable: “Though I didn’t see it at first, the world of journalism as I had known it was beginning to crumble around me….I saw my own fees at one major news outlet drop to one-third of their value between 2004 and 2009.” In a sense, Ehrenreich’s work has always been mournful, mostly for the traditions of social justice and collective organizing so ruthlessly attacked since the Ronald Reagan administration. The author stayed prolific even after her hardcover success, and this collection is sprawling, packed into sections such as “Haves and Have-Nots,” “Bourgeois Blunders,” and “God, Science, and Joy.” The chapter titles are often provocative (“Going to Extremes: CEOs vs. Slaves,” “S&M as Public Policy,” “The Unbearable Being of Whiteness”), and her significant research is conveyed in a wry, taut polemical style. Prominent topics include the brutalization of poor people (“if poverty tends to criminalize people, it is also true that criminalization inexorably impoverishes them”), the absurdities of the mental health system, and pervasive misunderstandings about gender and power (on Abu Ghraib: “I never believed that women were innately gentler and less aggressive than men”). While some earlier work may seem dated—e.g., essays on the grating 1980s yuppie ethos—others chillingly foresaw the devastation of labor and the middle class, the privatization of social services, and the increased cruelty of law enforcement toward the vulnerable. Memorably, Ehrenreich reflects on her own working-class roots as the “source of much of my radicalism, feminism, and, by the standards of the eighties, all-around bad attitude.”

With such relevance to fractured late-capitalist America, Ehrenreich’s work warrants renewed attention.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4555-4367-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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