Next book

WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS

ESSAYS FROM THE CLASSICS TO POP CULTURE

Incisive, reflective and unfailingly stimulating. It wouldn’t hurt Mendelsohn to occasionally pass up an opportunity to...

Another top-notch collection of previously published criticism from Mendelsohn (How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken, 2008, etc.).

“There rarely are any real ‘barbarians,’ ” the author writes. “What others might see as declines and falls look, when seen from the bird’s-eye vantage point of history, more like shifts, adaptations, reorganizations.” This long-range perspective distinguishes Mendelsohn’s criticism from that of less erudite and measured peers. The opening section, “Spectacles,” ranges from Avatar to Mad Men with refreshing matter-of-factness, pinpointing the cultural significance of commercial forms of art without over- or understating their merits. Mendelsohn’s analysis of why Julie Taymor was precisely the wrong director for the Broadway musical Spider-Man is particularly sharp. Mendelsohn’s assessments can be negative, even dismissive, but they are not overheated or personally nasty. The near-exception is “Boys Will Be Boys,” a severe going-over of Edmund White’s memoir City Boy (2009), and even that is less a slam than a forthright statement of the differences between two generations of gay writers. Although Mendelsohn mused at length on questions of homosexual identity in The Elusive Embrace (1999), his criticism reveals an openly gay writer comfortably connected to the culture at large. He is equally acute and balanced on the memoir craze, the pleasures of Leo Lerman’s journals and “the fundamental failure of genuine good humor” in Jonathan Franzen’s work. Mendelsohn’s tendency to announce that there is a single key insight that crucially explains a given artist’s work can be irritating, but often his insight is key: Susan Sontag’s affinity with French classicism, for example, or ultrasophisticate Noël Coward’s grounding in “the stolid values of the decidedly unsophisticated lower-middle-class.”

Incisive, reflective and unfailingly stimulating. It wouldn’t hurt Mendelsohn to occasionally pass up an opportunity to remind readers he’s the smartest guy in the room, but then again, he almost always is.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59017-607-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 18


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016


  • New York Times Bestseller


  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

Next book

WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 18


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016


  • New York Times Bestseller


  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

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

Next book

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

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. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

Close Quickview