Despite occasional insight, a lack of continuity makes the book, despite the author’s reverence and enthusiasm, a missed...



An unconventional analysis of the cultural phenomenon of superheroes that goes far beyond comic books.

The cultural saturation of superheroes may have reached its zenith. Each year, Hollywood continues to release more big-budget superhero movies from the Marvel universe and beyond, earning billions of dollars. However, as Gavaler (English/Washington and Lee Univ.; School for Tricksters, 2011, etc.) points out in his attempt to trace the cult of superhero archetypes through history, the obsession with superheroes is hardly new. The common tropes of the superhero, including “secret identities, aliases, disguises, signature symbols, traumatic origins, extraordinary powers, [and] self-sacrificing altruism,” were already accepted standards of heroic literature and mythology long before Superman first appeared in Action Comics in 1938. In his analysis, Gavaler hunts down examples to show how the concept of the superhero has been a mainstay of Western culture for centuries, citing the comparison of the superhero to a god figure, the superhero as revolutionary, and the influence of evolution on superhero identity. It’s an ambitious project, but the author’s vague thesis and exceptionally broad definition of “superhero” make nearly all of his supporting examples valid despite how irrelevant—e.g. Jean Valjean of Les Miserables. By Gavaler’s standards, superheroes are easily mistaken for the protagonist or hero (of the nonsuper variety) of a narrative. Moreover, the author divides his narrative by selective subject matter that is not cohesive to a single argument, often leaving readers puzzled. More problematic still is Gavaler’s tenuous string of examples—on multiple occasions, the author prefaces a statement with, “I don’t know if…”—which creates a rambling and discontinuous quality to his writing, further exacerbated by insertions of personal stories from reading comics as a boy and teaching them as a professor.

Despite occasional insight, a lack of continuity makes the book, despite the author’s reverence and enthusiasm, a missed opportunity.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60938-381-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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

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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A forceful, necessarily provocative call to action for the preservation and protection of American Jewish freedom.


Known for her often contentious perspectives, New York Times opinion writer Weiss battles societal Jewish intolerance through lucid prose and a linear playbook of remedies.

While she was vividly aware of anti-Semitism throughout her life, the reality of the problem hit home when an active shooter stormed a Pittsburgh synagogue where her family regularly met for morning services and where she became a bat mitzvah years earlier. The massacre that ensued there further spurred her outrage and passionate activism. She writes that European Jews face a three-pronged threat in contemporary society, where physical, moral, and political fears of mounting violence are putting their general safety in jeopardy. She believes that Americans live in an era when “the lunatic fringe has gone mainstream” and Jews have been forced to become “a people apart.” With palpable frustration, she adroitly assesses the origins of anti-Semitism and how its prevalence is increasing through more discreet portals such as internet self-radicalization. Furthermore, the erosion of civility and tolerance and the demonization of minorities continue via the “casual racism” of political figures like Donald Trump. Following densely political discourses on Zionism and radical Islam, the author offers a list of bullet-point solutions focused on using behavioral and personal action items—individual accountability, active involvement, building community, loving neighbors, etc.—to help stem the tide of anti-Semitism. Weiss sounds a clarion call to Jewish readers who share her growing angst as well as non-Jewish Americans who wish to arm themselves with the knowledge and intellectual tools to combat marginalization and defuse and disavow trends of dehumanizing behavior. “Call it out,” she writes. “Especially when it’s hard.” At the core of the text is the author’s concern for the health and safety of American citizens, and she encourages anyone “who loves freedom and seeks to protect it” to join with her in vigorous activism.

A forceful, necessarily provocative call to action for the preservation and protection of American Jewish freedom.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-593-13605-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2019

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