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DEAD OPPOSITE

THE LIVES AND LOSS OF TWO AMERICAN BOYS

A murdered Yale student and a 15-year-old New Haven gangbanger charged with the crime are the principals in this passionate, self- consciously empathetic account of the clash between poverty and privilege. Once again Douglas (Class: The Wreckage of an American Family, 1992) delves beneath surface appearances and easy stereotypes to fashion social history from family turmoil. The media glare focused on the 1991 murder cast the boys as stark opposites. Christian Prince, a white fourth-generation Yalie, son of a Chevy Chase, Md., lawyer, was an all-American athlete and vice president of his boarding school class. James ``Dunc'' Fleming, a black member of the 'Ville posse and reputed drug dealer, sported bullet wounds in both legs from a drive-by shooting. Though obviously more familiar with the suburbs of the Princes than the urban battleground the Flemings call home, Douglas spends time with each family, sharing (and dutifully reporting) their pain. He strains to draw parallels between the boys: ``The one's posse was the other's Yale'' is the most convincing. Both the death of Christian Prince and the life of the accused—and ultimately acquitted—Dunc Fleming are portrayed, justifiably, as tragedy. Douglas rejects journalistic objectivity as ``a smug fiction,'' but his emotional involvement in the story and his indulgence in direct address (to the reader, to the dead boy) edge his narrative uncomfortably close to bathos. The book is most powerful when he steps aside and lets family and community members talk. The case worker, the victim's advocate, the school principal, and the drug dealer speak with the authority and rage of experience. They clearly communicate that if underclass youth are to say no to drugs and violence, as privileged America demands, they must be given something to say yes to. Part voyeuristic melodrama, part bleak, unstinting portrait of a society so rotted with fundamental inequity and division that rapprochement seems impossible. (b&w photos, not seen).

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 1995

ISBN: 0-8050-2686-X

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1994

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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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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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