A tightly focused study of mountain societies that hints at future conflicts.



A veteran journalist drops into the highest hotspots across the globe for a sobering account of why mountainous regions often engender violence.

“From Kentucky to Kashmir,” Matloff (Conflict Reporting/Columbia School of Journalism; Home Girl: Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block, 2009, etc.) finds that mountainous regions—with their tendency toward insularity and suspicion regarding outsiders—disproportionately make up the most warlike zones on the planet. The author, who has visited many of these fraught elevations over the years, presents nine journalistic accounts from the front lines: Albania’s northern Dinaric Alps, the Sierra Madre of southern Mexico; Colombia’s Andes, Nepal’s Himalayas, the Northern Caucasus of Chechnya and Dagestan, Kashmir, Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush; Norway’s Lyngen Alps, and the Pyrenees and Swiss Alps. In the final chapter, which covers the Swiss Alps, Matloff offers a kind of reality check of the efficacy of the lofty Swiss in keeping peace and unity for hundreds of years—namely, a loose confederation of self-governing cantons. Long-running disputes between clans can start legendary strife, such as in Albania, where blood feuds endure for generations. The Zapatistas of the Sierre Madre, descendants of the ancient Maya, have been battling the central government for centuries over land rights and equal treatment. The indigenous Rai, only 2.8 percent of Nepal’s population and who live in the highest mountains in the world, are fighting the damming of their precious glacial waters, which, writes the author, also supply “Asian rivers on which billions of people depend.” Matloff interviewed many inhabitants of these highlands, recording their hardscrabble ways of life and the deep reverence they hold for the mountains. Moreover, she observed the American military training at the Army’s Mountain Warfare School in Jericho, Vermont, as they prepared for the harsh conditions in Afghanistan as well as Norway’s Arctic Allied Training Center, “where NATO trains its most hardened men for the high cold.”

A tightly focused study of mountain societies that hints at future conflicts.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-465-09788-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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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. 29, 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. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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