Successfully avoiding academic-ese, Loomis delivers a jargon-free, clearly written history.

A HISTORY OF AMERICA IN TEN STRIKES

A fresh history of American labor and the strikes that resulted from companies’ mistreatment of workers.

In each chapter, labor historian Loomis (History/Univ. of Rhode Island; Out of Sight: The Long and Disturbing Story of Corporations Outsourcing Catastrophe, 2015, etc.) discusses the specifics of a strike followed by a section of context about the broader issues in American society undergirding the unrest. The author begins with the women laborers in the mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, who fought terrible factory conditions, during strikes in 1834 and 1836. Refreshingly, Loomis includes the resistance of African-American slaves as a labor-management issue, a topic that constitutes the second chapter. “By walking away from the plantations,” writes the author, “withholding their labor from masters who increasingly could not control them, the slaves undermined the southern economy and morales.” Loomis continues chronologically, ending with the rise of service-worker unions starting in the 1980s, groups that consisted mostly of blacks, Latinos, and new immigrants. Many of them labored in restaurants and hotels, but the movement sometimes went by the catchy name of “Justice for Janitors.” Some theories of government state that those elected to exercise power should protect the exploited. The author generally agrees, but he also explains how both federal and state governments almost always side with employers, usually to the detriment of employees. In the modern era of strikes, President Ronald Reagan smashed the union of air-traffic controllers, who actually served as his own employees. The anti-union fervor of Reagan and others has meant a precipitous decline in organized labor unions in numerous industries, leading to deepening wage inequality, job insecurity, and social unrest. Each chapter of this well-told saga could stand on its own, and the author broadens the value of this primer/well-documented advocacy tract with an appendix that briefly describes 150 significant moments in American labor history.

Successfully avoiding academic-ese, Loomis delivers a jargon-free, clearly written history.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62097-161-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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