Lazare sings one note, and it’s shrill.

THE VELVET COUP

THE CONSTITUTION, THE SUPREME COURT, AND THE DECLINE OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY

Inspired by the 2000 presidential-election debacle, Lazare issues another polemic on the breakdown of American democracy.

Lazare’s avowed preference for Al Gore takes some burnish off his first assertion: that the hovering presence of the electoral college and the partisan intervention of the Supreme Court represented a collapse of American democracy. Even those who grant his premise may not be convinced when the author blames this collapse on his favorite whipping boy, the archaic US Constitution. Recapitulating the argument he made in The Frozen Republic (1996), Lazare characterizes the Constitution as a conservative document tailored to a rural nation with an interest in preserving divided authority held by an elitist group of landowners he calls “Country.” They were more English than the English, who moved on to the parliamentary system Lazare admires. In addition to the electoral college, the author is also unhappy with the all-states-are-equal composition of the Senate, which he views as inherently undemocratic. The system of checks and balances designed by Jefferson and Madison troubles him, for it insures that “each constituent element would be simultaneously superior and inferior to every other.” It’s never quite clear who’s in charge, and at times (during the Civil War, or indeed, the recent election), the system is paralyzed. Matters are worsened, Lazare goes on, because Americans revere their Constitution as a perfect document, by definition infallible. Even if they wanted to amend it, Article V makes the process extremely difficult. What can be done? After running down his wish list of issues—proportional representation, campaign-finance reform, voting rights for felons, gun control, and stronger Congressional control of war powers—the author has nothing more concrete to suggest than a national mobilization of the citizenry, which can only come about once an outraged, energized intelligentsia have issued their clarion call.

Lazare sings one note, and it’s shrill.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2001

ISBN: 1-85984-633-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Verso

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2001

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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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