A disturbing, painful story that smoothly combines the personal and the universal.

A disquieting book examines a dark corner of American life.

If there was any doubt that the country’s wealth gap has grown untenably wide, this book dispels it. In her debut book, McLaughlin, an award-winning journalist, turns her investigative eye on the plasma collection industry, which is astonishingly large but mostly hidden from public view. She has a personal reason for digging into it: She suffers from a rare nerve disease that requires “periodic infusions of a medicine made from human blood plasma.” The author began to wonder where the products originated and about the people who sell their plasma. She had initially expected that the sellers would be a small number of downtrodden people at the bottom of the social ladder. Instead, she found that most sellers come from the middle class. They often have jobs but struggle to make ends meet. They use the money from selling plasma to buy groceries or gas, cover bills, or repay loans. While there is no exact count of the number of sellers, a good guess is that more than 20 million people donate each year, “nearly 8 percent of the U.S. population of people 18 years or older.” As McLaughlin shows, a surprising amount of plasma is exported. In 2021, the value of American blood products sold overseas exceeded $24 billion. The pharmaceutical companies that buy the plasma understand their donor base, and they locate collection clinics in areas hit by economic decline. They often pay repeat donors more. For her research, McLaughlin interviewed scores of donors and found that many felt exhausted and ill after making a donation. The long-term health effects of multiple donations is unknown, although McLaughlin surmises that there must be some damage inflicted. “This book,” she writes, “began as a quest to find the people on whose plasma I depend…. I found a splintered society, divided by economics.” It is a distressing conclusion but an inescapable one.

A disturbing, painful story that smoothly combines the personal and the universal.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-982171-96-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: One Signal/Atria

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2022


Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023


A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

A thoughtful program for eradicating poverty from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted.

“America’s poverty is not for lack of resources,” writes Desmond. “We lack something else.” That something else is compassion, in part, but it’s also the lack of a social system that insists that everyone pull their weight—and that includes the corporations and wealthy individuals who, the IRS estimates, get away without paying upward of $1 trillion per year. Desmond, who grew up in modest circumstances and suffered poverty in young adulthood, points to the deleterious effects of being poor—among countless others, the precarity of health care and housing (with no meaningful controls on rent), lack of transportation, the constant threat of losing one’s job due to illness, and the need to care for dependent children. It does not help, Desmond adds, that so few working people are represented by unions or that Black Americans, even those who have followed the “three rules” (graduate from high school, get a full-time job, wait until marriage to have children), are far likelier to be poor than their White compatriots. Furthermore, so many full-time jobs are being recast as contracted, fire-at-will gigs, “not a break from the norm as much as an extension of it, a continuation of corporations finding new ways to limit their obligations to workers.” By Desmond’s reckoning, besides amending these conditions, it would not take a miracle to eliminate poverty: about $177 billion, which would help end hunger and homelessness and “make immense headway in driving down the many agonizing correlates of poverty, like violence, sickness, and despair.” These are matters requiring systemic reform, which will in turn require Americans to elect officials who will enact that reform. And all of us, the author urges, must become “poverty abolitionists…refusing to live as unwitting enemies of the poor.” Fortune 500 CEOs won’t like Desmond’s message for rewriting the social contract—which is precisely the point.

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780593239919

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

Close Quickview