Readers of Barbara Ehrenreich on one hand and Paul Krugman on the other will find good grist for the mill in Shell’s book.




Shell (Journalism/Boston Univ.; Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, 2010, etc.) digs into the workaday world to examine the changing nature of—well, the workaday world itself.

With terms like “gig economy” and “disruption” ever more prevalent, the author asserts that “it has become hard to pin down what it even means to be ‘employed.’ ” There is job growth, but it doesn’t seem to be having an effect in driving up wages or building the middle class; there are jobs, but there is no longer the social contract between employer and employee that allows for security or future-building. Meanwhile, much of what we think about the job world doesn’t closely align with reality. As Shell notes, for example, far from being a haven for goldbricks, what remains of the social welfare network is mostly used judiciously, such that “the average person collecting Social Security disability has worked for twenty-two years.” Furthermore, getting an education is no longer the guarantee for decent work that it once was, while the idea that Americans lack the necessary skills for the new economy isn’t quite right, either. “Lacking economic power and without union representation,” writes the author, “many workers have little political power with which to leverage their very real skills.” The result is a lot of jobs at minimum wage with no benefits, ever growing inequality, and less access to opportunity. However, Shell observes, for many people, the disrupted economy affords reasons to do some disrupting of their own—for instance, as she chronicles, to make bespoke brooms, become artisans, agitate for worker partnership and job sharing, go back to the land, or—perhaps more usefully for the greater good—help build "purpose-driven businesses” that take the profit motive seriously but that also emphasize the people with whom they work.

Readers of Barbara Ehrenreich on one hand and Paul Krugman on the other will find good grist for the mill in Shell’s book.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-451-49725-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Currency

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.


A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.


Based on eight years of reporting and thousands of hours of interaction, a journalist chronicles the inner worlds of three women’s erotic desires.

In her dramatic debut about “what longing in America looks like,” Taddeo, who has contributed to Esquire, Elle, and other publications, follows the sex lives of three American women. On the surface, each woman’s story could be a soap opera. There’s Maggie, a teenager engaged in a secret relationship with her high school teacher; Lina, a housewife consumed by a torrid affair with an old flame; and Sloane, a wealthy restaurateur encouraged by her husband to sleep with other people while he watches. Instead of sensationalizing, the author illuminates Maggie’s, Lina’s, and Sloane’s erotic experiences in the context of their human complexities and personal histories, revealing deeper wounds and emotional yearnings. Lina’s infidelity was driven by a decade of her husband’s romantic and sexual refusal despite marriage counseling and Lina's pleading. Sloane’s Fifty Shades of Grey–like lifestyle seems far less exotic when readers learn that she has felt pressured to perform for her husband's pleasure. Taddeo’s coverage is at its most nuanced when she chronicles Maggie’s decision to go to the authorities a few years after her traumatic tryst. Recounting the subsequent trial against Maggie’s abuser, the author honors the triumph of Maggie’s courageous vulnerability as well as the devastating ramifications of her community’s disbelief. Unfortunately, this book on “female desire” conspicuously omits any meaningful discussion of social identities beyond gender and class; only in the epilogue does Taddeo mention race and its impacts on women's experiences with sex and longing. Such oversight brings a palpable white gaze to the narrative. Compounded by the author’s occasionally lackluster prose, the book’s flaws compete with its meaningful contribution to #MeToo–era reporting.

Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4229-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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