For fans and students of popular sociology, an eclectic and pithy confirmation that many colorful heroes who speak in...

SUPERMAN IS JEWISH?

HOW COMIC BOOK SUPERHEROES CAME TO SERVE TRUTH, JUSTICE, AND THE JEWISH-AMERICAN WAY

How comic books’ awesome superheroes stormed the mainstream without forsaking their distinctive ethnic character.

The question mark in the title of this ethnographic study by Brod (Philosophy and Humanities/Univ. of Northern Iowa; co-editor: Brother Keepers: New Perspectives on Jewish Masculinity, 2010, etc.) is, of course, rhetorical. The Hebrew descent of the Man of Steel has long been recognized—and not simply because his creators, Siegel and Shuster, shared it. The prototypical champion, flying in monogramed cape and red briefs worn outside his blue leotard, was, like many of his co-religionists, an immigrant, an alien from another planet. He wore a bespectacled, protective disguise. The superhero genre and the comic book itself, as Brod writes, were developed by Jewish artists and writers barred from other venues for their considerable talents. It’s telling that their protagonists almost always had split personalities. The characters’ back stories indicate survivors’ guilt. Spider-Man may not keep kosher, and The Hulk may have missed his bar mitzvah, but the ethos and sensibilities of these assimilated characters remain clearly Jewish. Earnestly didactic, Brod offers brief accounts of anti-Semitism, science fiction and the crimes of the Nazis. (The first thing Captain America did was give Hitler a frask in punim: a slap in the face). The author also traces the thread of ethnicity through comics’ Golden and Silver Ages, and he salutes old Mad magazine artists and current continental and Israeli graphic novelists. He pays appropriate respect to the seminal work of Will Eisner, Jack Kirby and Art Spiegelman, and to the novel Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon.  Brod’s scholarly but lively narrative does a fine job of tracing “how the people of the book became the people of the comic book.”

For fans and students of popular sociology, an eclectic and pithy confirmation that many colorful heroes who speak in balloons are, indeed, Jewish.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9530-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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