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LEAVING TOWN ALIVE

CONFESSIONS OF AN ARTS WARRIOR

The controversial former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts emerges here as a true public servant—albeit one who, admittedly, lost his moral bearings at times in a world dominated by political manipulation. Tapped in 1989—after active behind-the-scenes lobbying—to chair the NEA, Republican trial-attorney Frohnmayer found the agency embattled: ``cultural terrorists'' like Jesse Helms (wielding a portfolio of Mapplethorpe photos) wanted to end the NEA's existence, or at least to put ``content restrictions'' on government-funded art. Meanwhile, some artists, decrying state involvement in culture, also wanted to see the agency disbanded. During the author's tenure, right-wing fundamentalists kept the ``porn'' issue alive with—Frohnmayer says—lies and distortions. (The conservative Heritage Foundation criticized only 32 grants out of 90,000 given out over the course of 25 years, but the outcry over tax-funds for so-called smut made, the author says, a great fund-raiser.) Artists blamed Frohnmayer for putting restrictions on grants (which he did hoping to provoke litigation that would find the restrictions unconstitutional), but threatened censorship seemed to have less of a ``chilling effect'' than a ``heating effect'': Artists reacted strongly, with explicit sexual material and confrontational rhetoric, keeping the controversy on the front pages. Frohnmayer (an arts lover with a master's degree in Christian ethics who evinces a firm commitment to the First Amendment) thought that he could mediate the argument—but, instead, he was caught in the cross-fire, sabotaged by right-wing operatives placed in his agency by the White House, and disillusioned by a mostly spineless Congress. The author was fired in 1992, before the Republican Convention. Frohnmayer defends not only his own role but the role of art in society: a classic Washington-insider's memoir that may reach beyond the usual politics-hungry readership. (Eight-page b&w photo insert)

Pub Date: April 26, 1993

ISBN: 0-395-65571-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1993

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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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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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