A perceptive and subtle meditation about a “true reckoning with the self.”

SILENCE

A SOCIAL HISTORY OF ONE OF THE LEAST UNDERSTOOD ELEMENTS OF OUR LIVES

The nuances and complexities of silence.

Brox (Creative Writing/Lesley Univ.; Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light, 2010, etc.) moves from the openness and space found in her earlier, well-received books on farms to places far more confining. This poignant and somber book is as much about solitude as it is silence. It’s also a social history of buildings and people who inhabit them, primarily prisons and monasteries, and the silence, whether imposed or invited, that inhabits those within. The author begins with the history of Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary. Built in 1829, it was largely inspired by Founding Father Benjamin Rush’s belief in a “new kind of justice,” the “silent and separate incarceration of criminals.” The plan was to make prisons “as forbidding and repellent as possible.” Throughout, Brox intimately imagines its first prisoner, Charles Williams, an 18-year-old black farmer, personally experiencing the horrors and sufferings of prison life. The author then transitions to a historical examination of the monastery and the monks who chose a life of voluntary imprisonment as a means to achieve a more spiritual life. Silence, monastic chants, and prayers were an integral part of their daily lives, as was community, something Williams was forbidden. A large part of the book explores the austere life and writings of the famous Trappist pacifist monk Thomas Merton and his life at Kentucky’s Abbey of Gethsemani. Brox touches on many diverse topics, including the lives of nuns in monasteries and the horrific World War II bombing of the Monte Cassino monastery, and invokes many voices, including Dickens, Thoreau, Eugenia Ginzburg, a prisoner of Stalin’s Great Purge, author Doris Grumbach, and Brox’s “own most profound encounter with silence.” She concludes that silence can be many things, from an unwelcome punishment or a “lifelong commitment” to a “deliberate inquiry” or a “last resort.”

A perceptive and subtle meditation about a “true reckoning with the self.”

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-544-70248-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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