Fun, light entertainment for devoted moviegoers.



An exploration of a significant year in late-20th-century film.

In a year shrouded in worldwide concerns over Y2K, filmmakers “shared one unspoken trait,” writes Raftery (High-Status Characters: How the Upright Citizens Brigade Stormed a City, Started a Scene, and Changed Comedy Forever, 2013, etc.): the “ambition to make something no one had seen before.” Whether it was the greatest year ever is highly debatable (likely not), but the author, thanks to more than 100 interviews with key players, offers a spirited celebration of the year’s movies. As Sam Mendes, creator of the “dark, suburban fantasy” American Beauty, told Raftery, “it’s astonishing how many different genres were being redefined.” The author examines more than 30 films, mostly American, from January’s “jumpy, star-free vomit comet,” The Blair Witch Project, to December’s “movie-ist movie of the year,” Magnolia. He does a fine job taking us behind the scenes to reveal how the films were made, actors chosen, and film scores written. In addition to the blockbusters—Star Wars: Episode One—The Phantom Menace, The Sixth Sense, Three Kings—the author discusses smaller films, including Iron Giant, The Best Man, and The Wood. Tom Twyker said his German film, Run Lola Run, was about “breaking the chains of our existence.” The Matrix, Raftery writes, tried “to make sense of the confusion and unease that were beginning to take hold in the late nineties.” Office Space “was intended to reflect the new decade’s collective middle-class malaise” and had a “lucrative afterlife” in DVD sales. Though he doesn’t make a fully convincing case for the importance of 1999 in film history, Raftery offers plenty of interesting trivia—e.g., Brad Pitt’s then-girlfriend, Jennifer Aniston, shaved his head for Fight Club. Other interviewees include Edward Norton, Reese Witherspoon, Kirsten Dunst, Steven Soderbergh, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Taye Diggs, and “the man who played Jar Jar Binks.”

Fun, light entertainment for devoted moviegoers.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7538-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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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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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.


“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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