DEMOKRASI

INDONESIA IN THE 21ST CENTURY

While there is new hope in the election of populist Joko Widodo, this new chapter has yet to be written. A trenchant,...

An exploration of Indonesia’s shaky but resolute move into democracy.

Former Sydney Morning Herald Asia-Pacific editor McDonald (Mahabharata in Polyester: The Making of the World's Richest Brothers and Their Feud, 2010, etc.) has been covering the developments in Indonesia since the waning of Suharto’s long authoritarian rule (1966-1998). The author begins with a brief sketch of the populous archipelago’s early history, encompassing glorious Javanese empires thriving from its strategic location within the east-west navigation routes. He then looks at the dispersal of the Malay language and spotty conversion to Islam in the early 15th century, leaving (still) many pockets of Hindu and Buddhist adherents. The legacy of the colonial era centered on exploitation of its trade rather than the uplift of its people: By 1905, 37 million people were ruled by an armed force of 16,000 Europeans. Indonesian national consciousness would ignite in the 1920s, giving rise to the country’s first liberator, Sukarno, whose collaboration with the Japanese occupiers during World War II helped galvanize support for independence. McDonald then moves through convulsive periods to Indonesia’s coming-of-age: the country’s first election in 1955; the coup of 1965 by Suharto, which left a wave of slaughter and ushered in a “new order” marked by American-trained technocrats directing the economy; rigged elections; widespread patronage; eruption of independence movements in East Timor, Papua and elsewhere; the rise of fundamentalist Islamic groups; and the “octopus-like hold” by the military on all institutions. Yet reforms began to infiltrate through the short terms of an array of subsequent civilian presidents and what McDonald sees as fierce public support for the “civilianization of politics.” Along with signs of modernity are a growing awareness of environmental despoilment, appreciation of the immigrant Chinese entrepreneurial spirit and a growing call for religious toleration.

While there is new hope in the election of populist Joko Widodo, this new chapter has yet to be written. A trenchant, well-researched book.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1863956611

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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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

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“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. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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