Earnest, thoughtful, and alarming in places—an optimistic work that urges America toward a profound cultural shift.

THIS LAND IS OUR LAND

HOW WE LOST THE RIGHT TO ROAM AND HOW TO TAKE IT BACK

Woody Guthrie was singing a truth that we’ve allowed to sicken and nearly die; it’s time to nurse it back to health.

An assiduous roamer and backcountry ranger, Ilgunas (Trespassing Across America: One Man's Epic, Never-Done-Before (and Sort of Illegal) Hike Across the Heartland, 2016, etc.) returns with a heavily researched, passionate argument about the need for America to emulate many other countries and allow its citizens to roam across the land, public as well as private. He asserts that roaming was long a part of the American way of life, but we have lost the way. He offers some disturbing statistical evidence—e.g., how few people own most of the private land and how our national parks and monuments are overflowing with visitors. He also notes how our sedentary lifestyle is affecting our health—and our national budget—and he continually reminds us how much better it is elsewhere for roamers; Scotland and Sweden are among his most frequent examples. Ilgunas populates the text with iconic literary and cultural figures who believed in roaming, from Plato to Rousseau to Thoreau. The author also knows the counterarguments to “free roaming”—e.g., lawsuits against landowners, litter, armed roamers—and he devotes a significant section of the narrative to answering, if not refuting, them all. In a final chapter devoted to how we might accomplish his dream, the author cites the works and words of legal authorities, and he appeals to our better selves—an approach that, unfortunately, does not often bear fruit. “Let’s not be so fixated on something as small as individual liberty,” he writes, “…when we should be thinking about something far grander and far nobler: the health of the community, the health of the planet, the prosperity of the human race and all our fellow species.”

Earnest, thoughtful, and alarming in places—an optimistic work that urges America toward a profound cultural shift.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1784-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Plume

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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