A careful explication of why things are as they are, with all those old arguments continuing to sizzle and pop—suggestive...

AMERICA BETWEEN THE WARS

FROM 11/9-9/11: THE MISUNDERSTOOD YEARS BETWEEN THE FALL OF THE BERLIN WALL AND THE START OF THE WAR ON TERROR

A nation becalmed becomes a nation adrift in this provocative study from the Council on Foreign Relations.

When the Berlin Wall fell, triumphalist commentators declared that the United States and its lesser allies were suddenly free of history: Capitalism had won, peace was ubiquitous and America was the world’s sole superpower. Lately, it seems as if the dozen years between the fall of communism and the al-Qaeda attacks of 9/11 mark a mere recess. The first Bush administration was not exactly inclined to that triumphalism, write analysts Chollet (The Road to the Dayton Accords: A Study of American Statecraft, 2005, etc.) and Goldgeier (Not Whether But When: The U.S. Decision to Enlarge NATO, 1999, etc.), though with the first Gulf War it would “try to turn [the Kuwait] crisis into the conceptual foundation of its post–Cold War foreign policy,” the vaunted and now ethereal “new world order.” This occasioned a sharp division between paleoconservatives such as Pat Buchanan and neoconservatives such as Dick Cheney, the former believing that America was a republic and not an empire, the latter that America’s powerful military privileged the nation to tell the rest of the world how to behave. The Clinton administration was less inclined to commit forces abroad until its second term, when the president seems to have decided that he needed more medals on his legacy, while “his critics complained that the president was trying too hard and getting too involved and, as a result, frittering away the leverage that comes with more selective presidential engagement.” Meanwhile, of course, other enemies were gathering, unleashing their fury on Bush II, who had campaigned sounding like an isolationist but, come 2001, was ready to try on an empire for size—to, it is increasingly clear, tragic ends.

A careful explication of why things are as they are, with all those old arguments continuing to sizzle and pop—suggestive and highly useful for those seeking to reshape policy in the near term.

Pub Date: June 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-58648-496-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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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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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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