A scholarly study conducted with dignity and thoroughness.



A sociological study focusing on the experiences of 11 characters toiling in the underbelly of a vibrant American city.

Inspired by the seminal work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (The Weight of the World), Auyero (Latin American Sociology/Univ. of Texas; Patients of the State: The Politics of Waiting in Argentina, 2012, etc.) invited his students to try a similar study of their local Austin “underclass” to show how external forces in society—low wages, lack of health care, racism, gender inequality, being undocumented and trying to attend college, etc.—have adversely affected the lives of real people. Each of the students chose a subject dear to his or her own area of research, spent much time with and interviewed the subject extensively, and fashioned a readable narrative of the subject’s life that underscores the chronic challenges that erode the well-beings of so many Americans—especially “those living at the bottom.” After Maggie Tate’s excellent historical overview of Austin, which puts the city in context as an attractive, creative boom economy with enormous disparity in wealth, each contributor presents the plight of his or her subject. They include Mexican-born Santos, who looked back on a hard life “working for others” and some middle-class success and was threatened by an injury in a car accident that left his uninsured family in near financial ruin; Clarissa, a middle-age, white restaurant worker who was rendered homeless by an accident that exposed her uninsured vulnerability to hospitals and lawyers; Inés, whose delinquent daughter fell into the grips of the state’s Disciplinary Alternative Education Program; Raven, who moved from waitressing to stripping to escorting for the money, slipping into drug addiction and abusive relationships; and Nepalese refugee Kumar, a cab driver who lied about his identity to keep customers from abusing him. Engaging and accessible, the essays dovetail with today’s debates on social inequality and immigration.

A scholarly study conducted with dignity and thoroughness.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4773-0365-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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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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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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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“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. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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