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MEGAMYTHS OF POLITICS, ECONOMICS, AND RELIGION

Orthodoxies all along the spectrum of American opinion are challenged in this thoughtful, data-filled disquisition.

Schwarz, a retired business executive with a penchant for facts and figures, wants Americans to stop relying on politicians, cable-news channels and ambient ideologies and think for themselves. His own opinions show a probing and independent cast of mind. His moderate-to-liberal stance on economic problems highlights the scourges of unemployment, low wages and income inequality and disputes the idea that tax cuts are a panacea and calls for government action to stimulate the economy and ensure health care for all. His positions on social issues are more eclectic: he supports both drug legalization and hand-gun ownership—he’s been an NRA member ever since a run-in with murderous gang members at a Chicago factory he ran—while opposing both the death penalty and abortion (although he allows that anti-abortion laws are probably unenforceable). Schwarz infuses the book with a wealth of interesting statistics on everything from tax revenue and Medicare budgets to sexual activity among teens, and he even sprinkles in revealing insights from his experience as a refugee from Communist Poland, businessman and parent of a developmentally disabled son. His analyses of socio-economic problems are cogent and engaging, but his specific policy remedies are less so: his pet proposals include a flat tax; an ill-considered plan to power the economy with hydrogen and renewables; a quixotic scheme to eliminate irregularities from English spelling—“a symposium would have to be held on revising the language, followed by a public education program”—and a deity-free rewrite of the Pledge of Allegiance. (“I pledge, by all that I hold sacred, my allegiance to the United States of America…”) Readers won’t always agree with Schwarz’s conclusions, but they can learn a lot from his informative, closely reasoned discussions of a wide range of issues. A stimulating take on the great concerns of the day. 

 

Pub Date: Nov. 23, 2011

ISBN: 978-1467928069

Page Count: 294

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2011

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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