Thoroughly depressing—but urgent, necessary reading, at least for those who aren’t true believers in the Trumpite cause.

IT'S EVEN WORSE THAN YOU THINK

WHAT THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION IS DOING TO AMERICA

If there’s such a genre as anti-hagiography, Johnston (The Making of Donald Trump, 2016, etc.) adds materially to it with this new polemic against the sitting president.

If the Trump administration can boast of an accomplishment to date, writes the author, it is that “thanks to Trump the mentally ill now have virtually the same gun rights as the sane.” One might think this a questionable contribution to the commonwealth, but, Johnston argues with a fine and steely sense of indignation, that is precisely the point. Where other presidents have had agendas in the national interest and reformist tendencies toward the same end, “the Trump presidency is about Trump. Period. Full stop.” That includes various kleptocratic schemes, such as the evasion of the anti-emoluments clause mostly by simply ignoring it and being abetted by a Republican Congress all too willing to overlook constitutional niceties. Thus it is, Johnston chronicles, that the president continues to cash in on the Trump Hotel just down the street from the White House, with staffers hanging out in the lobby to record who comes and goes, to be rewarded accordingly. It also includes turning a blind eye to the dismantling of the administrative state by “termites” who operate behind closed doors, carefully shielded from public view as they destroy agencies and records. Johnston is very good at connecting odd dots: why, for instance, would Trump want to annihilate an agency devoted to increasing American trade exports abroad? Because part of the deal is to push renewable energy, and Trump “has attacked renewable energy again and again.” Never mind collusion with Russia, election-fixing, vote suppression, and all the rest. The author writes without an ounce of self-congratulation that he’s been warning about the dangers of Trump for years, and it’s all coming true—including, he adds, his prediction that “as president, Trump’s behavior would become increasingly erratic. And it has.”

Thoroughly depressing—but urgent, necessary reading, at least for those who aren’t true believers in the Trumpite cause.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7416-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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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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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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