The author is not much of a prose stylist, but he gives enough historical evidence to back the theory that political and...

DEMOCRATIC BY DESIGN

HOW CARSHARING, CO-OPS AND COMMUNITY LAND TRUSTS ARE REINVENTING AMERICA

Thoughts on how “alternative institutions” could revamp American society.

Using his own experience of starting a car-sharing program as a leaping-off point, Metcalf takes readers back to the years prior to the American Revolution to begin his analysis of how and why alternative institutions are once again needed in the United States. Although the narrative is textbook-dry—he outlines what he plans to examine, covers that material in depth, and then sums it all up—Metcalf does offer solid examples of cycles of change in this country. From the early days of the country, he studies worker co-ops, analyzes “mission-driven investments and progressive consumer demand,” and discusses companies that demonstrate his points. The author looks at the pros and cons of land trusts, particularly the Champlain Housing Trust in Vermont, and explores other housing situations. Metcalf notes that money is usually the limiting factor in community and conservation land trusts, but they also require like-minded people who are more interested in maintaining the land for generations rather than generating short-term profit through privately owned property. The author also features agricultural cooperatives and provides a short history of sharecropping as well as a study of the emergence of the Farmers’ Alliance in 1879, the Seattle General Strike of 1919, and the advent of the sustainable food movement. Metcalf uses these historical markers to illustrate some of the key components of alternative institutions: they should solve the immediate problems people face in their daily lives; they should provide a direct route for political organizing; and they should network with one another, creating a larger pool of similarly minded members. Although alternative institutions can’t fix everything, Metcalf believes they can help transform society, and many readers may agree.

The author is not much of a prose stylist, but he gives enough historical evidence to back the theory that political and social change are in the hands of activists willing to make a stand against conventional practices.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-137-27967-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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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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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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