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THE CONSERVATIVE SENSIBILITY

The author’s literate, committed voice sometimes disappears in his tangled wood of allusion and quotation.

The veteran Washington Post columnist and TV commentator offers a richly documented history of and argument for a wider embrace of conservative political values.

“Richly documented” is an understatement. Will (A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred, 2014, etc.) is nothing if not a thorough, dedicated researcher and thinker, but he’s often prolix. Many of the historical figures the author references will come as no surprise—e.g., Burke, Moynihan, Madison, Locke—and there are also plenty from the literary world; these include allusions to Twain and Fitzgerald, whose closing sentences from The Great Gatsby provide Will with a metaphor for his principal points. Not much the Pulitzer winner offers here will surprise those who have paid attention to his rhetoric over the decades. His three American heroes remain: Washington, Lincoln, John Marshall. He thinks the U.S. government has grown too big, that it is too interested in providing entitlements (Will is a believer in much more self-reliance than he sees evident today), that schools and universities should do a much more rigorous job of transmitting the Western historical heritage, and that progressives just don’t understand how America is supposed to work. However, in one chapter, he may surprise some readers: He declares he is an atheist (though “amiable, low-voltage”), and he spends a few pages reminding us that the founders were not particularly religious and that we must observe the separation of church and state. He praises the civil rights movement but asserts that much of it has gone wrong. Oddly missing are direct references to the current occupant of the White House, though Will does zing many of his predecessors (from both parties but principally Democrats), mostly for their failure to comprehend fully the concept of liberty that fueled the founders.

The author’s literate, committed voice sometimes disappears in his tangled wood of allusion and quotation.

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-48093-2

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Hachette

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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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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