by Edward Tenner ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 6, 1996
What do football helmets and laser printers have in common? According to Tenner, they exemplify a new sort of technological backlash that turns the promise of progress on its head. Tenner, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, argues that progress in numerous fields of endeavor has been undercut by unanticipated ``revenge effects,'' which he describes as ``ironic unintended consequences'' of human ingenuity. Examples are myriad: antibiotics that promise the cure of age-old disease but end up breeding resistant microorganisms; imported wildlife that competes too successfully with native species; computer printers that create better-looking documents—and force everyone to desktop-publish memos that would convey the same information if handwritten. The examples are organized under several headings, from medicine and environmental disasters to pests (both animal and vegetable), computerization, and sports (which, interestingly enough, offers some of the best evidence of the thesis). The football helmet, designed to reduce injuries, actually encourages a more violent style of play, creating a new and more serious kind of injury. While Tenner claims to be neither pro- nor anti-technology, he often seems to press his thesis beyond useful limits, as in his observation that those who dwell near wooded areas must now be on guard against tick bites; this is neither a new phenomenon nor an effect of technology. He has clearly done an impressive amount of research, but his footnotes (which attempt to cover whole paragraphs in one sweep) do not let the reader easily follow his research; often an interesting and provocative quote will go unattributed. And a convoluted style often forces a reader to reread an argument that could have been more simply stated. Tenner's subject is undoubtedly interesting, and his examples will strike close to home for many readers; the book would be even better if he had not tried to inflate his useful observations into universal truths.
Pub Date: May 6, 1996
Page Count: 352
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1996
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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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