Authoritative but not easy reading.

THE HAVES AND HAVE-NOTS

A BRIEF AND IDIOSYNCRATIC HISTORY OF INEQUALITY AROUND THE GLOBE

The lead economist at the World Bank’s research division takes a timely look at the inequality of income and wealth.

Global inequality is “extremely high,” writes Milanovic (Worlds Apart: Measuring International and Global Inequality, 2005), with the richest ten percent of income recipients receiving 56 percent of global income, while the poorest ten percent receive only 0.7 percent. A few poor countries are catching up with the rich world, but the differences between the richest and poorest individuals are enormous and likely to grow. In this wide-ranging book, the author examines inequality within nations and between nations, using vignettes to illustrate how wealth and income differences play out in daily life. However, Milanovic’s detailed explanations of how available data can be used to produce insights are often complex and dense—they will be rough going for most non-specialists. Fortunately, the anecdotes make up most of the book and shed considerable light on a grab-bag of issues related to inequalities past and present. For instance: Although Marcus Crassus of ancient Rome had an income equal to the annual incomes of about 32,000 people of his time, John D. Rockefeller was probably the richest person ever, with an income equal to that of about 116,000 people in 1937. Rome wins hands down, however, when the income of its senators (about $21 million annually) is compared to that of today’s U.S. senators (less than $700,000). In China, where inequality doubled between the 1980s and 2005, the disparity between haves and have-nots threatens national unity. Anywhere in the world, writes Milanovic, more than 80 percent of a person’s income can be explained by two factors: place of birth and parents’ income class. The only ways to improve one’s income: hard work, growth in the national mean income of one’s country (carrying the entire population with it) and immigration. The author also discusses differences between the United States and the European Union, similarities between Asia and Latin America and whether the world actually has a middle class (“at best only emerging”).

Authoritative but not easy reading.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-465-01974-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2010

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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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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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