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STUDS TERKEL’S WORKING

A GRAPHIC ADAPTATION

A fitting homage that reinforces the old saw: If work were any good, they wouldn’t have to pay us to do it.

One of Terkel’s best-known books takes on new life in graphic form courtesy of the team of dyspeptic artist Pekar and editor Buhle (Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History, 2009, etc.), along with a crew of illustrators.

Terkel (1912–2008) was a fabulous storyteller of unadorned style, which may make some readers wonder why Working (1974) merits Classics Illustrated treatment. But the world is full of such small mysteries, as well as a larger one that Terkel pegged early on: Why is it that people work when work, in so many of its guises, is just a series of “daily humiliations?” “To survive the day,” Terkel writes, “is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us.” Pekar and company cherry-pick, but go for low-hanging fruit, too, in selecting stories from Terkel’s sometimes angry, sometimes sorrowful, rarely triumphant oral histories. Toward the heart of the book is a longish tale with all three qualities—that of Dolores Dante, an Italian American waitress who makes barely decent money combining the skills of a boxer, dispatcher, hauler, psychologist and accountant, and has to contend with not only the occasional skinflint customer but also jealous colleagues and scummy bosses. A proofreader at a printing plant in the heady days of antiwar radicalism describes the pleasure he takes when putting one such boss in his place, while Rip Torn, the actor, recounts the trouble he encountered in Hollywood by not kowtowing to producers and studio suits. Assembly-line workers have it no better, while one pro-baseball player recounts being on the assembly line of autographing baseballs for the front office “six dozen a day! Eighty one days! That’s a lot of baseballs!” And so on, with only a couple of bright notes, and those from lucky souls who hit it rich.

A fitting homage that reinforces the old saw: If work were any good, they wouldn’t have to pay us to do it.

Pub Date: May 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59558-321-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2009

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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

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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