Not for the faint of heart or the innumerate. For policy and financial wonks, a bracing read.

FINANCIAL TURMOIL IN EUROPE AND THE UNITED STATES

ESSAYS

The European economy seems to be sliding from bad to worse, and with it the planet’s markets. Soros (The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means, 2008, etc.), maven of the tickertape, ventures persuasive reasons why.

First, the buried lede, which comes late in the book: The European economy is pegged to the euro, and “the euro is a patently flawed construct.” It is flawed, writes the author, because its architects had not yet formed the perfect—or even an imperfect—financial union sufficient to back the unified currency, expecting its flaws to be corrected, “if and when they became acute, by the same process that brought the European Union into existence.” That process was a frankensteining of different national agendas, a process that, in large part, was engineered by Germany so that Europe would sign off on its reunification. Gathering articles written for the Financial Times and New York Review of Books, among other journals, Soros indulges in some interesting speculative exercises: What would happen, for instance, if Germany withdrew from the euro and went back to the mark? The answer might be an instant enrichment of Germans and immiseration of everyone else—so why haven’t the Germans done so? Soros’ explorations of the European (and, to a somewhat lesser extent, American) market ought to send readers running for their economics dictionaries, since some terms are not quite completely defined or spelled out: Why is government involvement in mortgage insurance a good thing? What is the Danish model? What is the difference between fiscal policy and monetary policy? Soros is someone who has made his billions knowing those things and anticipating the reaction of markets to ordinary realities, pleasant and otherwise—so it’s well worth paying attention to his views on the world’s financial systems.

Not for the faint of heart or the innumerate. For policy and financial wonks, a bracing read.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-61039-152-8

Page Count: 172

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

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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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