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TOO MUCH MAGIC

WISHFUL THINKING, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FATE OF THE NATION

A sharp demand to disenthrall ourselves, to instead face the future with “practical skill and something like common sense.”

With the era of cheap energy and easy credit now over, novelist and social critic Kunstler (The Witch of Hebron, 2010, etc.) delivers a cold slap to the fantasists who believe technology will save us.

Seven years after his much-discussed jeremiad The Long Emergency, the author returns to recount the evidence supporting his predictions about our radically altered future. The still-unfolding financial crisis kicked off in 2008, exploding populations, climate change (anthropocentric or not), peak oil, and the inadequacy of alternative methods to power societies are all cited as signs we’ve entered the zone where our customs and habits must change so as to avoid a complete breakdown. The dangerously stressed systems that underpin the society we’ve known since World War II—“agriculture, commerce, manufacturing, transport, finance, the oil-gas-coal industry, the electric grid”—are too large, too complex and too expensive to sustain any longer. Followers of Kunstler’s writings and attendees of his many lecture appearances will recognize the take-no-prisoners style, the harsh invective directed at familiar targets—cars, planes, skyscrapers, Wall Street, suburbia—and the pleas on behalf of walkable cities, trains and farms built to human scale. The added feature here is the scorn he directs at those who refuse to recognize the severity and dimensions of the crisis he describes. He trashes the “delusional groupthink” of Google executives who confuse energy with technology; he abuses industry leaders who promote so-called “clean” coal, shale oil and gas to extend our fossil fuel addiction; he chides self-described “greens” for wildly overestimating the readiness of alternatives or renewables to fill the breach; he lambastes both political parties for their irrelevance; and he berates futurists like Ray Kurzweil for their “techno-grandiosity,” for magical thinking, and for their steadfast refusal to accept that something that can’t go on forever won’t.

A sharp demand to disenthrall ourselves, to instead face the future with “practical skill and something like common sense.”

Pub Date: July 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2030-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

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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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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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