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PARADISE SCREWED

SELECTED COLUMNS OF CARL HIAASEN

These sharp, amusing pieces confirm Hiaasen’s status as a bird so rare—the humorous popular novelist with an acutely...

A second helping of dry wit and gale-force malice from South Florida’s native Ambrose Bierce.

While Hiaasen remains known as a bestselling crime novelist (Sick Puppy, 1999, etc.), he’s also gained attention since 1985 with his twice-weekly column for the Miami Herald, first anthologized in Kick Ass (1999). This second collection dovetails equally well with his fiction, providing factual depictions of the many social controversies and fiascoes that inspire his novel-parodies. As the title implies, most of the material here centers on the malign yet absurd forces that have overwhelmed the Sunshine State. As Hiaasen realizes, many of these issues—overdevelopment, municipal corruption, gun proliferation, human naïveté in the face of nature—are occurring on a national level. Most of his columns either address their subjects via deadpan reportage laced with energetic mockery (“Florida’s new [1987] handgun law, also known as the Mortician’s Relief Act, officially makes us the most dangerous state in America”) or descend enthusiastically into the outright satire of his fiction. From a 1998 column entitled “A Few Minutes at City Hall”: “Old Business: Bi-Monthly Firing of City Manager. . . . Another recess is called while the Key to the City is presented to actor Sylvester Stallone.” While the persistence of crass corruption in South Florida draws many such zingers (as does the recent Florida-centered election fiasco), Hiaasen clearly understands and addresses the big picture: the way an intractable tangle of such problems has accelerated the degradation of Florida’s once-pristine natural resources and the disappearance of its genuine rural culture. Other favorite targets include the religious and cultural right, hack politicians who cynically exploit homophobia and racial tensions, and the banality and hypocrisy beneath Florida’s sunny civic facade of athletics and theme parks.

These sharp, amusing pieces confirm Hiaasen’s status as a bird so rare—the humorous popular novelist with an acutely critical social perspective—that he’s practically an endangered species.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14791-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2001

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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