Good fuel for those who think that the sitting U.S. president is the worst thing to happen to democracy since Xerxes.

THE FATE OF THE WEST

THE DECLINE AND REVIVAL OF THE WORLD'S MOST VALUABLE POLITICAL IDEA

The West is premised on political and economic ideals that are under threat—from Beijing, from Moscow, and from Washington, D.C.

Emmott (Good Italy, Bad Italy: Why Italy Must Conquer Its Demons to Face the Future, 2012, etc.), former editor-in-chief of the Economist—which is seen as conservative just about everywhere except the U.S.—holds that the West is as much an idea as it is a geographic entity: the West is found in Seoul, Tokyo, and Kuala Lumpur as well as Paris and London. It relies on the operation and staunch defense of several principles, first among them relative equality of income and opportunity as well as openness—i.e., a society that is “open to new ideas, new elites, new circumstances and new opportunities whether of trade in goods and services or of culture and science.” An open society is thus one of porous borders rather than of walls, friendly to free trade agreements as opposed to protectionist tariffs, outward-looking rather than nationalist. There have been many well-documented studies of inequality, but Emmott’s appeal to openness recalls arguments not heard since Karl Popper, ones that are now broadly unwelcome anywhere that the words “liberalism” and “liberal democracy” are viewed with suspicion. Emmott examines aspects of inequality, international affairs, and the failures of one ideal or another in actual practice. As he notes, with respect to the abandonment of free trade agreements, if you pick a fight with a foreigner, a foreigner is likely to pick a fight with you, and “to deal with…enemies, the West’s greatest asset in the past has been its friendships,” friendships likely to be lost to isolationism and the resulting reshifting of world power relations. Emmott uses plenty of facts and figures to support his argument, which is profoundly one of ideas—and how the idea of the open, free, Western society is better than that of authoritarianism.

Good fuel for those who think that the sitting U.S. president is the worst thing to happen to democracy since Xerxes.

Pub Date: May 9, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-78125-734-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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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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