by Ben Lewis ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 26, 2009
A slightly goofy book at first glance, but full of sharp aperçus about the communist era and its discontents.
So, Nikita Khrushchev walks into a bar and says...
What he says doesn’t matter; what matters is that ordinary Soviet citizens accommodated themselves to the deprivations and difficulties of ordinary life by telling jokes. British TV documentarian Lewis has a million of them. What’s colder in Romania than the cold water? The hot water. A Jew joins the Party just before dying, saying to his shocked friends, “It’s better that one of them dies than one of us.” How do you quadruple the value of a Trabant? Put a banana on the back seat. Officialdom doesn’t usually smile at such things—“One more like that and I’ll smack you one,” says an East German guard to Lewis about the Trabant crack. But, writes the author, communist regimes have tended to be more tolerant of humorous criticism than have other totalitarian stripes—there are very few Nazi or Falangist joke books out there. In the end, humor is what helped bring down communist walls and regimes. So runs Lewis’s compelling thesis, which he had heard repeated for years through the former communist world, wondering, sensibly, whether it might be true. He answers that question to his and readers’ satisfaction, but not before spinning out hundreds of groaners and knee-slappers that speak to hard times under authoritarian eyes. Those authoritarians, Lewis writes, made a tacit deal with the people under their rule: Make fun of us, but remain apathetic and certainly don’t protest against your lot. So effective was the deal, he adds, that it was the unfunny Mikhail Gorbachev who broke things up by making apathy impossible—to say nothing of hiding all the vodka.A slightly goofy book at first glance, but full of sharp aperçus about the communist era and its discontents.
Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2009
Page Count: 354
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2009
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by Ta-Nehisi Coates ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 8, 2015
This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2015
New York Times Bestseller
National Book Award Winner
Pulitzer Prize Finalist
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
Page Count: 176
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015
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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
Page Count: 432
Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019
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