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THE FREEDOM AGENDA

WHY AMERICA MUST SPREAD DEMOCRACY (JUST NOT THE WAY GEORGE BUSH DID)

Not much new here, but detailed, intelligent analysis makes this an excellent primer on a perpetually thorny issue.

New York Times Magazine contributor Traub (The Best Intentions, 2006, etc.) analyzes the history and future of America’s role in spreading democracy abroad.

The author takes his title from the phrase generally used to describe the policy articulated in President Bush’s second inaugural address: “the survival of liberty in our lands increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” Traub traces the history of this messianic idea back to the turn of the 20th century, when American forces swept into the Philippines and fumblingly attempted to convert the island nation into a modern democracy. He touches upon similar efforts made by presidents Wilson and Truman but spends most of his time on America’s response, both at home and abroad, to the communist and later Islamist threat. The subtitle reveals Traub’s slant, but his criticisms of the Bush administration are couched in a dispassionate, journalistic tone, eschewing righteous denunciations to focus on questions of efficacy. Oddly, the author doesn’t spend much time explaining “why America must spread democracy.” Instead, he operates as a scientist, cracking open the notion of democracy to see what it consists of, examining why it works in some places but not in others. Like all good reporters, Traub distrusts simple solutions, looking instead at the complex, competing evaluations of democracy’s importance in world affairs. He has no sympathy for those who find some people “unready” for a government chosen at the ballot box, nor for those who think democracy is simply a matter of ballot boxes and ignore the impact of history, economics and institutions. He clearly fears a future America, chastened by the Bush administration’s failures abroad, unwilling to respond to the calls of people around the world who yearn for a stake in their governments.

Not much new here, but detailed, intelligent analysis makes this an excellent primer on a perpetually thorny issue.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-374-15847-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2008

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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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