Less a thoughtful investigation than a collection of journalistic essays, interviews, and personal experiences related to...

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DEATH ON EARTH

ADVENTURES IN EVOLUTION AND MORTALITY

Evolution solves myriad problems, so why do living things die? “Death is the biggest problem of all, surely….Why hasn’t it been whipped into shape by natural selection?”

No one knows for sure, admits British zoologist and journalist Howard (Sex on Earth: A Journey Through Nature's Most Intimate Moments, 2014) in this breezy, scattershot exploration of the topic. The author explains current theories in the early pages and then occasionally returns to them in a score of unrelated, often quirky chapters on natural history with an emphasis on extinction, dying, and death. In an early chapter, Howard describes placing a dead magpie in a field to observe how fellow magpies respond. Would they mourn? “Would they view it as an interloper? Would they feed off it?” No, they mostly ignored it until a fox carried it away days later. Less blasé, humans rarely ignore a dead human. Death gives us the creeps. Everyone loathes maggots, and most people—but not the author—have a low opinion of animals that eat the dead: vultures, buzzards, kites, hyenas, etc. Howard writes of a 13-acre body farm filled with pigs in various stages of decomposition: a center in forensic research on determining the time of death. Bugs and smells feature prominently. He learns that many creatures die immediately after reproducing, but delaying sexual maturity by a very low-calorie diet prolongs life, often spectacularly—in some animals but not others. Howard also chronicles his visit to a huge, commercial exhibition on life extension, an event that gives the impression of a charlatan’s convention: some of the participating vendors included “DermaNutri…EDM Therapy, Forever Living Products, [and] iGrow Hair Laser Rejuvenation System.”

Less a thoughtful investigation than a collection of journalistic essays, interviews, and personal experiences related to death, many of which are not for readers with weak stomachs.

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4729-1507-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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