Engrossing portrait of an often baffling legal subculture that might make any career offender consider a new livelihood.



Shrewdly constructed, compulsively readable account of Sacramento Bee senior writer Delsohn’s year among the California capital’s homicide prosecutors.

The Pulitzer-nominated journalist spent 2001 shadowing district attorney Jan Scully and her tough-minded Major Crimes chief John O’Mara; this intimate access, which the author terms unprecedented, pays off in a nuanced view of the prosecutors’ at once complicated and seedy world. It was a tough year in Sacramento: several wrenching, high-profile trials unwound simultaneously. In an ambitious tactic that certainly holds the reader’s attention, Delsohn follows all of them, interspersing each separate yet equally tricky legal proceeding among the others. The crimes are vile, ranging from a hardcore thug who shotgunned to death a young clerk in a robbery, to a 20-year-old from a “good home” who raped and murdered a 12-year-old girl, with the notorious decades-old SLA bank robbery/murder thrown in as well. The trials themselves are packed with human drama—in one, the public defender recuses herself due to her romantic involvement with another murderer—although in each instance the prosecutors become more aggressive and assured as their cases wend forward. Delsohn is positive (perhaps to a fault) in his portrayal of the prosecutors, depicting figures like O’Mara as bulldogs in the public interest who are glad to be despised by local defense attorneys and felons. The writer admirably captures the delicate relationships that form during long, overwhelming trials among the government attorneys, homicide survivors, and unpredictable judges and juries, as well as the murky, methamphetamine-ridden environments from which so much contemporary violence springs. Densely written, the text reads like a mix of early Law & Order scripts and old-school urban history, displaying a clear sense of regional specificity and aptly handling the cast of cops, DAs, hapless gangbangers, career criminals, and some scary predators from both the upper class and the underclass.

Engrossing portrait of an often baffling legal subculture that might make any career offender consider a new livelihood.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2003

ISBN: 0-525-94712-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2003

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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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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.


“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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