Credible, if sometimes bland.

IN THE BLACK

A HISTORY OF AFRICAN AMERICANS ON WALL STREET

The son of the first African-American to control a seat on New York Stock Exchange undertakes a history of blacks on Wall Street.

The WASP echelons of the securities industries were slow to come into the 20th century. But finally, after the Irish and the Jews, African-Americans were admitted to the magic place where you got cash simply for the exchange of paper. Bell, whose father founded the now-defunct firm Daniels & Bell Inc. in 1971, begins the story of the industry’s democratization in the 1960s, when three black men worked amid Merrill Lynch's more than 2,500 brokers. Progress was sometimes impeded by such expected institutions as the regulatory agencies (bane of brokers white and black) and unexpected ones like CORE, which feared Wall Street firms would drain cash from Harlem. But aided by evolving federal public policy and to a surprising extent the assistance of many who themselves had been admitted to the club not long before, African-Americans learned to master the games perfected by others. Black brokers became black investment bankers. Struggling minority firms were promoted in the ’70s and ’80s by major cities’ newly elected African-American mayors, who insisted on black managers for new municipal bond issues. Although Bell frequently alludes to problems with securities laws and regulations, which seem to have been common, he does not elaborate on them. (For example, he seems not to notice that one firm apparently paid commissions to salespeople who were not registered representatives.) As the tale becomes more checkered, the author warms a bit to the details, though the drama is largely related deadpan. With just a nod to the inevitable legal and personality problems, this reads much like a commissioned corporate history. Still, the tale of the energetic, bright young heroes who went where no blacks had gone before is inherently powerful and important.

Credible, if sometimes bland.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-471-40392-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Wiley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2001

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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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