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

THE FREEDOM AGENDA

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

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2008

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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

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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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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

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