Thorough and thoughtful, but with dense scholarly foliage that needs pruning.

THE CAUSE

THE FIGHT FOR AMERICAN LIBERALISM FROM FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT TO BARACK OBAMA

A liberal columnist and a professor examine the zigzag route of liberal politics since the New Deal.

Before the book was finished, Mattson (Contemporary History/Ohio Univ.; "What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?": Jimmy Carter, America's "Malaise," and the Speech that Should Have Changed the Country, 2009, etc.) left the partnership with the Nation contributor Alterman (Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama, 2011, etc.), who wrote the final draft. A chronicle of liberalism’s successes and failures, the text travels the labyrinthine road from the New Deal to the rise (and fall) of unionism, the theorists of the 1940s and ’50s (Dean Acheson, George Kennan), the battle against McCarthyism and the failures of Adlai Stevenson, whom Alterman writes helped create the notion of the effete intellectual. The author then charts the rise of the Kennedys, the tragic assassinations of the ’60s, civil rights and Lyndon Johnson, Betty Friedan and the feminist movement, the campaign and electoral failures of Eugene McCarthy, McGovern, Carter, Dukakis, Gore and Kerry. Alterman pauses often to visit relevant cultural history—the emergence of influential journals, Mailer’s writing, DeVoto’s criticism, Elia Kazan’s films, Cheever’s stories, the various liberal contributions of actor Sidney Poitier, novelist William Styron, filmmaker Oliver Stone and—in a long section—rocker Bruce Springsteen. Alterman points out continually how liberals have often been their own worst enemies—failing to stand up to the violence of the far left in the ’60s, fearing being branded “anti-American” in the face of war (Iraq), failing to confront the Tea Party and the ever-more-rightward GOP. Unfortunately, Alterman too often quotes others and only rarely flashes the scimitar wit he displays in the Nation.

Thorough and thoughtful, but with dense scholarly foliage that needs pruning.

Pub Date: April 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02343-1

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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