Interesting historical review but light on conclusions.

A Broken Sausage Grinder

IS OUR GOVERNMENT FUNDAMENTALLY FLAWED?

Brief but thorough overview of the origins of America’s political system.

Debut author Thomas takes the stance that the American political system is broken, though not hopelessly so. Deadlock in Congress and the polarization of the political process led the author to accept the popular sentiment that our law-making process is at a serious impasse. Thomas identifies a number of factors affecting the modern political process, including excessive contributions by corporations and special interest groups, changes in media that have surpassed the imaginations of the Constitution’s framers, and an entrenched two-party system with almost no room for compromise or additional voices. He hopes to help find answers to these problems by understanding where the process came from. To this end, the author begins with a lengthy and detailed exploration of the history behind the American political process, in both theory and practice. In doing so, he focuses on three major areas. First, Thomas reviews the origins of American democracy, from the earliest influences of Western democracy (the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, etc.) to the American Revolution and the Articles of Confederation. Second, he delves into the Federalist Papers to find the Founding Fathers’ ideas about the structure of American federal government. Third, he looks at the five eras of party systems that have marked the history of the nation. Thomas finally attempts to provide answers to the problems America faces, with such diverse advice as allowing only registered voters to make campaign contributions and stressing compromise over mere minority rule. Thomas’ work is a compelling review of American political history in an easy-to-read form; a comprehensive set of appendices also aids the reader. However, he would do well to add more analysis to his research. How do the Federalist Papers set the stage for the American political landscape of today, for instance? He hints at answers but doesn’t thoroughly address these findings.

Interesting historical review but light on conclusions.

Pub Date: May 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4759-2235-6

Page Count: 230

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2015

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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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