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THE DISASTER PROFITEERS

HOW NATURAL DISASTERS MAKE THE RICH RICHER AND THE POOR EVEN POORER

A hackle-raising book about nature and human nature, venality and justice, and how disasters—before, during, and...

How the most significant deleterious factor in natural disasters may be the human element.

“Disasters can conceal as much as they reveal,” writes Mutter (Earth and Environmental Sciences, International and Public Affairs/Columbia Univ.) in this plainspoken but urgent book. The author examines the intersection of the tragic loss of life and livelihood with civic irresponsibility and personal/institutional venality, played out through ill-preparedness and opportunistic aftermaths of the event. In doing so, Mutter endeavors to approach disasters panoptically, considering both sides of what he calls the Feynman line: that the natural and social sciences are inextricably linked in how we contend with hazards and disasters. It has everything to do with wealth, poverty, vulnerability, resilience, corruption, cronyism, racism, and a whole cacophony of social ills. Mutter frames matters clearly: capital works for its holders, who ensure that their capital grows by being close to the center of power in order to manipulate policy and lawmaking to their advantage. Think of the former vice president, Dick Cheney, who ran “Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, which...received tens of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts for reconstruction work” after Hurricane Katrina. Mutter presents a wealth of material evidence as well as social science theory—using the United States, Haiti, and Myanmar as examples—to explain how the elite class, without oversight, makes decisions as to where and what will be rebuilt, allocates lucrative contracts, and exploits the “opportunity to reshape society in order to secure its hold on power and capital.” The author delves into realms of racial bias (who’s a “thief” when looting, who’s just a “survivor”), panic response, the “Samaritan’s dilemma,” and “creative destruction.” He concludes that post-disaster risk reduction must be realistic, that reconstruction must be inclusive, and that neutral parties must ensure the appropriate use of relief funds: obvious, yes; practiced, rarely.

A hackle-raising book about nature and human nature, venality and justice, and how disasters—before, during, and after—sharply mirror society.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-137-27898-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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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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