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WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A DEMOCRAT

A book of heartfelt conviction that will not change a single mind.

Almost 40 years after his unsuccessful campaign for the presidency, the liberal Democrat addresses the state of the party, and the state of the country, in what reads like a long stump speech.

Whether embracing the label “bleeding-heart liberal” as “a compliment,” arguing that “the erosion of the American way of life began in 1981, when Ronald Reagan became president” or proclaiming of the Republican “faith in supply-side economics” that “the idea isn’t worth a hoot in a rain barrel,” the former senator from South Dakota isn’t writing to win converts from the conservative wing or even the center. The minister’s son is preaching to the choir, a choir that he fears might be tempted to sacrifice for political pragmatism the ideals he maintains represent the heart of the Democratic Party. “Food and hunger are not partisan issues. They are human issues,” writes McGovern (Abraham Lincoln, 2008, etc.), who believes much the same about education, medical care, jobs, immigration and other issues where he insists that intransigent Republicans are uncompromisingly in the wrong. Though the candidate who ran his own presidential campaign on a peace platform takes issue with the military interventions continued under President Obama, he is less critical of the administration’s attempts at bipartisanship than many liberals have been: “Never during my lifetime have I witnessed any president beset by the narrow partisanship that has plagued President Obama. The American people elected him for his vision—of change, of hope, of compromise…These ideals have been trampled on by Republicans.” Yet even those who generally align with McGovern’s ideology might find curious his assertion that “I often feel that the federal government is more sensible about spending than I am.” Though the rise of the Tea Party suggests a vocal opposition, McGovern believes that government is our friend—the bigger the better.

A book of heartfelt conviction that will not change a single mind.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15822-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2011

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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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