HANDS UP, DON’T SHOOT

WHY THE PROTESTS IN FERGUSON AND BALTIMORE MATTER, AND HOW THEY CHANGED AMERICA

Though not groundbreaking, a useful reference on a topic that requires continued examination.

An academic study of the police killings of black citizens as “examples of racial hostility, racial bias [and] legalized racial subordination.”

Cobbina (Criminal Justice/Michigan State Univ.) builds her narrative from a mixture of her own observations, interviews with experts, and data gathered through carefully designed research. Throughout, the author emphasizes high-profile deaths caused by law enforcement personnel in Baltimore and suburban St. Louis. Cobbina, a black woman who worried about being the victim of police force during her research, focuses mostly on the police killings of black males, but she also looks at the use of deadly force against black women and men and women of other races. Beginning with an expansive history of racial inequality in America, the author posits that such racism has often led to excessive force used disproportionately against blacks by police. After summarizing the historical context, Cobbina explains how racism, as well as the unique aspects of a specific city, resulted in the Baltimore death of Freddie Gray and the Ferguson, Missouri, death of Michael Brown. The author devotes a chapter to an examination of whether black police officers are more or less likely than white officers to employ deadly force against black males. She concludes that the hiring of additional black police officers often leads to negligible positive impact because it is an overly simplified solution to a deeply complex problem involving poverty, lack of hope for meaningful employment, and other structural factors rarely solved by local governments. In the second part of the book, the author shifts focus from the use of force to protests by citizens in Baltimore and St. Louis. She tries to discern why some individuals join protests despite the risks of police force, why many of those protestors quickly drop active resistance while others persist, and why a portion of despairing citizens never become actively involved. For an academic monograph, the author mostly eschews scholarly jargon while also not relying exclusively on anecdotal accounts.

Though not groundbreaking, a useful reference on a topic that requires continued examination.

Pub Date: July 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4798-7441-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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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

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

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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