A standout in the monograph memoir subgenre, where subject guide meets personal essay.



A humorist unites a neophyte’s history of modern dance with his own unlikely dance memoir.

Participatory journalist Alford (Would It Kill You To Stop Doing That?: A Modern Guide to Manners, 2010, etc.) ponders the social functions of dance in the 20th century, using his own late-blooming passion as a guide to inquiry. After a mostly danceless youth—excepting cotillion lessons and bouncing from New England socialite balls to Studio 54 as a teenager, plus coming out in New York in the 1980s—the author first began obsessing over dance in his mid-50s. Zumba lessons and late-night living room sessions proved gateway drugs to more esoteric dance pleasures, including the “ecstatic dance” of 5Rhythms and “contact improv” (think Pilobolus), all of which occasioned a lot of touching and feeling, followed by aches and injuries. Alford finds material by immersing himself in curious situations and then filleting his experiences into wry narratives. He recounts his faltering steps toward proficiency with withering self-deprecation: “To admit that you’re a practitioner of the leaping arts is to open yourself to inspection on the fronts of economic status, carnality, taste, self-involvement, and body mass.” Along the way, the author folds in facts and anecdotes about legends such as Gene Kelly, an aggressive pugilist, and the winsome Arthur Murray, whose mail-order instructional footprints tutored many aspiring rug-cutters in the dance-crazed 1920s. Opinionated overviews of famous dancers, notable performances, choreography choices, and outmoded dance idioms make it nearly impossible to read the book without a search window open for video evidence (see the grizzly bear, the bunny hug, the cakewalk, Isadora Duncan). A keen self-editor adept at meeting word counts for magazine stories, Alford makes efficient use of the long form, refracting histories and theories of dance through his own hilarious escapades and tracing the darker themes of reluctance, humiliation, and shame involved in the medium in an effort to make sense of why we dance and watch others dance.

A standout in the monograph memoir subgenre, where subject guide meets personal essay.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-2225-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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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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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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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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