by David Rieff ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 6, 2015
A basically pessimistic assessment certain to be disputed by those working to solve the problem.
A densely written critical analysis of the current approach to ending world hunger, calling into question the optimism of such technocrat philanthropists as Bill Gates.
Rieff, whose most recent book was a memoir about the death of his mother, Susan Sontag (Swimming in a Sea of Death, 2008), has returned to the broader themes of his earlier books (At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention, 2005, etc.), this time focusing on the global food crisis. After first describing the crisis and its multiple causes, the author concludes “that the central question is how to reform it if, indeed, it is not too late to do so.” At the core of the book is a chapter titled “Philanthrocapitalism: A [Self-]Love Story,” which charges that private business, the most politically influential, least regulated, and least democratically accountable sector, is currently entrusted with the welfare and the fate of the powerless and the hungry. The author disputes the view that the political, social, and cultural challenges of the global food crisis can be overcome if only enough money and intelligence are applied. He asserts that “the fundamental problems of the world have always been moral not technological” and that “farming is a culture, not just a means of production.” Rieff provides no ready answers to the food crisis but argues that we must start looking at the problem in a different way. He has clearly done his homework, and the text is rife with references to, and commentary on, the books and essays of others. What is missing is clarity; too often, Rieff builds his sentences like a set of Russian nesting dolls, obscuring an idea by folding in multiple subordinate clauses and parenthetical asides. This is not the most effective approach for this kind of book, which requires sharp ideas expressed clearly; end-of-chapter summaries would have helped general readers.A basically pessimistic assessment certain to be disputed by those working to solve the problem.
Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015
Page Count: 400
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: June 3, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015
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by Paul Kalanithi ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 19, 2016
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
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
Page Count: 432
Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019
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