Liberal-minded students of politics will find West’s arguments persuasive and his case well presented.



A think-tanker’s view of the post-Trumpian rubble.

“The United States faces extraordinary problems of polarization, extremism, and radicalization, which make it difficult to safeguard our democratic system and deal with important policy issues.” So writes West, vice president of the governance studies program at the Brookings Institution. Sadly, there’s nothing novel about this observation, but the author is well equipped to observe from his position, where a battery of political scientists studies events and trends. Naturally, they are dismissed and loathed by the MAGA crowd and its allied media. When one Brookings fellow identified the chief culprit as Trump and the authoritarian cult of personality he had built around himself, right-wingers howled even as some of West’s longtime friends on the right “complained about the capital city’s ‘cockroaches’ and said it was time to use the popular bug-killer Raid to get rid of political adversaries.” It all makes for a dangerous moment indeed, requiring long-needed reforms: among many others, abolishing the “antiquated Electoral College,” stopping gerrymandering, and quashing campaign finance rules that privilege the haves over the have-nots. Moreover, West suggests, many institutions in civil society, such as universities, must be overhauled in order to remove dark money. The author attempts to be evenhanded, noting that social media amplifies misinformation by both left and right even as the loudest voices emanate from the right. He also calls for self-policing that falls short of self-censorship, while stronger matters (here he recalls Leon Wieseltier) face a hitherto unexplored “challenge of delivering justice to those with complaints while also protecting the procedural rights of the accused.” Overall, West’s prescriptions are reasonable, but given a time when gerrymandering, fascism, and extreme partisanship are some of the defining features of the political landscapes, most seem unlikely to be enacted.

Liberal-minded students of politics will find West’s arguments persuasive and his case well presented.

Pub Date: June 28, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-8157-3959-3

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Brookings Institution Press

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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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. 29, 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. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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