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CITY BY CITY

DISPATCHES FROM THE AMERICAN METROPOLIS

From Whittier, Alaska, to Williston, North Dakota, to Palm Coast, Florida, these varied essays offer compelling snapshots of...

In these 37 singular essays, some reading like research papers, others as personal as memoirs, n+1 editor Gessen (All the Sad Young Literary Men, 2008, etc.) and Harvard graduate student Squibb find in certain American cities the crucible of enormous change since the financial meltdown of 2008.

In “Lessons of the Arkansas,” Ben Merriman wisely considers the hugely troubling ramifications of diverting rivers such as the mighty Arkansas for the irrigation of arid land. Dan Albert’s “The Highway and the City” finds the interstate structure both a product of wrongheaded urban renewal and a “transcendent” step in technological progress. In “The Office and the City,” Nikil Saval, author of Cubed: The Secret History of the Workplace (2014), looks at how the once-ubiquitous office towers of New York, San Francisco, and other metropolises face conversion rather than obsolescence. Two of the chapters are interviews: historian Gar Alperovitz explores how Cleveland has become a model for worker-owned, multistakeholder institutions that anchor the community and distribute wealth more equally. City Life/Vida Urbana organizer and activist Steve Meacham shares his methods of helping advocate for tenants’ rights in Boston against foreclosures. Some of the more amusing essays are highly quirky reminiscences of living or growing up in certain cities—e.g., Annie Wyman’s ferocious “Dallas and the Park Cities,” which chronicles her move to this “dark heart of Republican power” as a child and feeling appalled by its racist tones; and Ryann Liebenthal’s “The Making of Local Boise,” which finds a charm in the “little anthills of aesthetic and cultural kinship” popping up in his hometown. Other contributors include Michelle Tea, Jenny Hendrix, and James Pogue.

From Whittier, Alaska, to Williston, North Dakota, to Palm Coast, Florida, these varied essays offer compelling snapshots of how Americans live, move, and work.

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-86547-831-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Faber & Faber/n +1 Foundation/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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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GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

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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