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FIRST PRINCIPLES

FIVE KEYS TO RESTORING AMERICA'S PROSPERITY

Save the cost of the book and listen to a speech by just about any of this year’s crop of GOP candidates.

Former treasury undersecretary Taylor (Economics/Stanford Univ.; Getting Off Track: How Government Actions and Interventions Caused, Prolonged, and Worsened the Financial Crisis, 2009, etc.) looks to get back to the good old days “of economic freedom upon which the country was founded.”

These “first principles” are merely the ones of unrestricted free trade, meaning without pesky regulation and without government intervention or interference. Wave a wand and return to that, and voilà: “we can restore America’s prosperity and our confidence in the future.” It’s up to the worker who wants to be competitive to secure the skills and education necessary to the task, all a matter of incentives and rewards. But what if such a worker finds his or her job outsourced to Asia? To do anything in the way of protecting a job would be “interventionism,” while efforts to even out some of the turbulence of the so-called free market constitute dreaded and despised “short-term Keynesian discretionary” remedies. Taylor fair-mindedly notes that Republican and Democratic presidents alike have been more interventionist than less; readers who do not remember Richard Nixon’s experiments in wage-and-price freezes, for instance, may be surprised to realize how, well, socialistic they seem in today’s context. And the author is surely right to point out that the flaws in the banking system were far deeper than a mere bailout could fix, adding, “The extraordinary bailout measures that began with Bear Stearns before the panic were the most harmful interventions.” Yet Taylor’s neolibertarian prescriptions seem more dogmatic than helpful, his attacks on health-care reform a species of I’ve-got-mine privilege. His befuddlement at the thought that the Chinese government might jail vendors for selling nonorganic pork as organic (“there was no safety issue”) hints at a failure to connect with the world outside the pages of Ayn Rand, to say nothing of grasping the concept of truth in advertising.

Save the cost of the book and listen to a speech by just about any of this year’s crop of GOP candidates.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-393-07339-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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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

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