An intriguing invitation to question and resist, rather than simply obey and serve.



Freedom-loving author argues that human progress lies in the individual, not government cure-alls.

America is a “sinking ship” and relying on the government to fix it will not work, says Zaugg (The Sounds of Silence: An Introduction to Ethics, 2005, etc.). Instead, the country’s future depends on its citizens rediscovering personal liberty and responsibility. With the zeal of a revolutionary and the discernment of a philosopher, Zaugg champions individualism over blind obedience to legislative bodies, religion and other forms of “collectivism.” He insists people are capable of making healthy choices and managing their own lives. Despite its academic-sounding title, the book is not the typical text on ethics. It is a call to action for Americans to become people of character armed with a moral compass. Belief in human potential, rationality and the existence of universal truths are held up as the cornerstones of civilization. Ethics, Zaugg argues, should be taught in schools alongside other core subjects. “Freedom recognizes the need for values, principles and ideals as the foundation for our success, not an escape from personal responsibility,” he writes. The book is more effective at exposing flaws in current thinking than proposing practical solutions. Zaugg blasts politicians who push for more government mandates and skewers intellectuals who deny the existence of absolute ethical standards. Government, in his view, exists to protect citizens, not to provide for them. Social security, national health care and income taxes are just a few of the sacred cows that come into his crosshairs. Yet this is not a political treatise that falls neatly under conservative or liberal, and readers of all stripes should prepare to have their worldviews challenged. Some the book’s recommendations seem unlikely, such as slashing military spending by 50 percent. The “homework” for each chapter may strike some as a series of loaded questions. Though heavy-handed at times, the author transmits his message in a quizzical style that reflects a deep mistrust for today’s prevailing wisdom.  

An intriguing invitation to question and resist, rather than simply obey and serve.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2009

ISBN: 978-1608603732

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Eloquent Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2011

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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. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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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. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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