HOW SEX CHANGED

A HISTORY OF TRANSSEXUALITY IN THE UNITED STATES

Informative and absorbing. (20 b&w photographs)

Fascinating account of how transsexuality has challenged American concepts of sex, gender, and sexuality in science, medicine, law, and popular culture in the 20th century.

As defined by Meyerowitz (History/Indiana Univ.), transsexuality refers to conditions in which people hope to change the bodily characteristics of sex through hormones and surgery. Sex changes in animals were attempted in Europe in the early decades of the 20th century, and during the 1920s, German doctors performed sex-change surgery on patients, but few Americans were aware of the phenomenon before 1952, when the story of Christine Jorgenson’s transformation from male to female made headlines. Magazines, newspapers, books, and B-movies sensationalized the topic, while scientific literature began debating the biological and social basis of gender and sexuality. By the 1960s, with more men and women calling for the right to determine their own sex, a small number of American doctors were acceding to these demands. Meyerowitz describes the two sexual revolutions that followed: one, the open eroticisation of male-to-female transsexuals; the other, an effort by doctors and transsexuals themselves to distinguish transsexuals from homosexuals and transvestites. She recounts how the latter effort led in the 1970s to the establishment of clinics, professional standards of diagnosis and treatment, research programs, and support groups, and how different concepts of gender led to friction between the emerging transsexual liberation movement and the gay and women’s liberation movements in the decades that followed. With her sympathetic reporting on the lives of individual men and women coming to terms with their transsexuality—especially Jorgenson, who lived until 1989—Meyerowitz gives serious social history an engaging human face.

Informative and absorbing. (20 b&w photographs)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-674-00925-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2002

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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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