Moderately entertaining airplane fare—in the Malcolm Gladwell school of explaining the world as it is, but without the flair.

SIMPLEXITY

WHY SIMPLE THINGS BECOME COMPLEX (AND HOW COMPLEX THINGS CAN BE MADE SIMPLE)

A middling book of pop science that attempts to explain why we so often see complex events as simple phenomena, and vice versa.

Time writer Kluger (Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio, 2005, etc.) simplifies—and at times dumbs down—some of the scientific notions that occupied James Gleick’s Chaos (1988). Many of Kluger’s lines of questioning are fruitful. After all, if scientific laws can be adduced to define the workings of the stock market, someone stands to make a bunch of money. Yet, what we know of the market, Kluger writes, is “surprising and counterintuitive,” in that “millions of blind and self-interested trades somehow settle on a fair value for tens of thousands of different companies.” Naturally, though, it’s much more complex than that. Just so, writes Kluger, viewed a certain way, a pencil becomes a complex object enfolding many technologies and materials, much as a Florida election disguises countless actions gone wrong. Sometimes these lines of questioning are not so fruitful, however: It seems stretching the point to say that the 9/11 hijackings were an impromptu system of luck, guesswork, fear and “ergonomics, fluid dynamics, engineering, even physics.” This kind of sizzle-but-no-steak writing is common in the pop-sci genre, and Kluger atones with case studies developed at somewhat more leisure, such as his examination of how speed humps work less well than neighborhood associations might wish. The complex human brain, it turns out, can be fooled into slowing down by a simple optical illusion. The book is scattershot, but with a few take-home points by way of reward—one, meant for old-timers, being that whereas smacking a piece of consumer electronics may have been a good fix a generation ago, it seldom works on techno gear today, satisfying though it might be.

Moderately entertaining airplane fare—in the Malcolm Gladwell school of explaining the world as it is, but without the flair.

Pub Date: June 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4013-0301-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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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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A forceful, necessarily provocative call to action for the preservation and protection of American Jewish freedom.

HOW TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM

Known for her often contentious perspectives, New York Times opinion writer Weiss battles societal Jewish intolerance through lucid prose and a linear playbook of remedies.

While she was vividly aware of anti-Semitism throughout her life, the reality of the problem hit home when an active shooter stormed a Pittsburgh synagogue where her family regularly met for morning services and where she became a bat mitzvah years earlier. The massacre that ensued there further spurred her outrage and passionate activism. She writes that European Jews face a three-pronged threat in contemporary society, where physical, moral, and political fears of mounting violence are putting their general safety in jeopardy. She believes that Americans live in an era when “the lunatic fringe has gone mainstream” and Jews have been forced to become “a people apart.” With palpable frustration, she adroitly assesses the origins of anti-Semitism and how its prevalence is increasing through more discreet portals such as internet self-radicalization. Furthermore, the erosion of civility and tolerance and the demonization of minorities continue via the “casual racism” of political figures like Donald Trump. Following densely political discourses on Zionism and radical Islam, the author offers a list of bullet-point solutions focused on using behavioral and personal action items—individual accountability, active involvement, building community, loving neighbors, etc.—to help stem the tide of anti-Semitism. Weiss sounds a clarion call to Jewish readers who share her growing angst as well as non-Jewish Americans who wish to arm themselves with the knowledge and intellectual tools to combat marginalization and defuse and disavow trends of dehumanizing behavior. “Call it out,” she writes. “Especially when it’s hard.” At the core of the text is the author’s concern for the health and safety of American citizens, and she encourages anyone “who loves freedom and seeks to protect it” to join with her in vigorous activism.

A forceful, necessarily provocative call to action for the preservation and protection of American Jewish freedom.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-593-13605-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2019

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