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

TOO MUCH MAGIC

WISHFUL THINKING, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FATE OF THE NATION

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 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 13

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more