An insightful look at a rare cross-species relationship.



The fate of Asian elephants raises important questions for conservationists.

In this illuminating book, geographer Shell (Geography and Urban Studies/Temple Univ.; Transportation and Revolt: Pigeons, Mules, Canals, and the Vanishing Geographies of Subversive Mobility, 2015) reports on his visits to the “remote forestlands between India and Burma,” where he followed the trails of working elephants and their riders, called “mahouts.” Strong and amazingly sure-footed, the trained elephants are able to traverse monsoon-soaked landscapes, ford torrential waters, climb up and down mountains, and lift and carry huge weights, making them essential to the logging industry. Of 40,000-50,000 elephants in South and Southeast Asia—compared with some half a million African elephants—about a third are involved in labor. While most African elephants exist in the wild, the working Asian elephants have been domesticated in a process that the author realizes will disturb many readers: “a captured elephant is usually tied up for months on end in the forest, each leg fastened to a tree,” denied food at first, then rewarded with treats for learning commands—or struck on the back or ear with a metal-tipped instrument. Once trained, elephants work days and are released into the forest at night to forage for food and mate, though their front legs are fettered with a chain to keep them from ranging too far. Most are not eager to escape since cooperating with humans protects them from hunters and poachers. Shell describes in detail elephants’ power, ingenuity, intelligence, and “profound feelings of loyalty and protectiveness” that make them so valued. This relationship between human and elephant, the author suggests, is a result of displacement when encroaching farmland pushed animal and human communities out of their original habitat in the plains. Both migrated to forests, where humans, turning to lumbering as a new livelihood, found elephants indispensable. To animal rights proponents who argue that elephants should live in the wild, Shell points out that with little effective protection, their habitat is vulnerable to deforestation. To those who see only a “picture of domination,” Shell makes a persuasive case that the reality is complicated

An insightful look at a rare cross-species relationship.

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-24776-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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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. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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