He’s no McPhee or Pollan, but Owen provides a dogged, contrarian argument that scores some good points.

GREEN METROPOLIS

WHAT THE CITY CAN TEACH THE COUNTRY ABOUT TRUE SUSTAINABILITY

Want to reduce your carbon footprint and save the planet? Move to Manhattan.

New Yorker staff writer Owen (Sheetrock & Shellac: A Thinking Person’s Guide to the Art and Science of Home Improvement, 2006, etc.) seeks earnestly to overturn the traditional wisdom that says the only way to show your love for Mother Earth is to move to the country, make candles and go locavore. “New York,” he writes, “is the greenest community in the United States.” This may seem counterintuitive, but consider: Most urbanites live in small spaces rather than the McMansions of suburbia, if only because they cannot afford anything larger, and most walk to the grocery store, take mass transit and get enough exercise to avoid becoming slugs (mere consumers, that is). Conversely, a back-to-the-lander may live virtuously, but taking a Volvo rather than Birkenstocks to the store undoes many good intentions. Owen assembles useful facts, some of them sure to be surprises even for the most learned of NYC boosters. Still, he recognizes that were it not for the accident of crowded island life, Manhattan and environs could just as easily be Los Angeles. “When cities are built on a ‘human’ scale,” he writes, “they virtually force the creation of vast suburbs, with miles of freeways, long commutes, traffic jams, and shopping malls.” Occasionally the author inflates the significance of the facts to support his thesis. After all, it comes down to the hows as well as the wheres—a vegetarian living in the country, for instance, no matter how car-happy, will use fewer resources than a meat eater in the city. Owen works the city-versus-countryside theme into the ground—ruralites may feel a little picked-on—but the author does an important service in pointing out that those who live in cities can be just as green as your garden-variety organic farmer—and even more so.

He’s no McPhee or Pollan, but Owen provides a dogged, contrarian argument that scores some good points.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59448-882-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2009

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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