An entertaining exploration of personal desires and needs, with larger social and economic implications.

NOT BUYING IT

MY YEAR WITHOUT SHOPPING

Perceptive, often funny month-by-month diary of life as a nonconsumer by journalist and memoirist Levine (Do You Remember Me?, 2004, etc.).

Strong disagreement with the administration’s post-9/11 linkage of spending with patriotism; a deep-seated ambivalence about consuming; and malaise brought on by Christmas shopping prompted Levine and live-in partner Paul to take a vow to purchase only necessities for a full year, starting on New Year’s Day 2004. Just what is a necessity took some working out, but essentially, they agreed to spend money only on the basic business expenses of their home-based jobs and on what was needed to keep themselves and their pets fed, sheltered and in good health. Every year, they spend the winter and summer months at Paul’s house in rural northern Vermont and the spring and fall at Levine’s apartment in Brooklyn. The experiment began in the Vermont town of Hardwick, a place with relatively few commercial temptations. Whether in Vermont or Brooklyn, however, their connections with friends and family forced decisions: how to ask for and accept help, how to entertain, how to give gifts, how to maintain relationships without meeting for lunch or going to a movie. Discoveries about themselves and what’s important abound. Levine is a keen observer of her own emotions as well as an experienced reporter, providing vivid accounts of attending meetings of a Voluntary Simplicity group, watching a Buy Nothing Day demonstration and visiting the home of an extreme practitioner of simple living. When she admits to breaking the rules in June, buying a shirt and pants at a thrift shop because she had “nothing to wear,” and then in August succumbing to a luscious pair of pants that made her “look thin,” most women will understand and will sympathize with her growing weariness with Paul’s “effortless purity.” By November, Levine reports, she was not only free of the desire to shop but free of the desire to judge those who do.

An entertaining exploration of personal desires and needs, with larger social and economic implications.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-6935-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2005

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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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