An accessible and informed guide to an always-fascinating subject, and an ideal reference for the general reader.

DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT MYTHOLOGY

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE GREATEST STORIES IN HUMAN HISTORY BUT NEVER LEARNED

The latest addition to the Don’t Know Much About series (Don’t Know Much About History, 2003, etc.) is an engaging handbook on gods, goddesses and the civilizations they have inspired.

A bestselling explicator of subjects as varied as history and astrophysics, Davis is clearly the owner of a questing mind. His goal as an author is to infect readers with his own intellectual eagerness, and he succeeds admirably with this idiosyncratic tour of world mythology. Davis covers material that will probably be new to many readers—the sacred stories and pantheons of India, Japan, China, Africa, the Americas and the Pacific Islands—and he offers intriguing and up-to-date perspectives on more familiar subjects. His chapter on classical mythology, for example, isn’t just a rehash of Olympian exploits; rather, it places tales of the gods in a historical context and explains how Greek religion was created from and influenced by a diverse array of Mediterranean cultures. Davis also considers the contemporary ramifications of ancient beliefs, such as court battles over Native American relics and ongoing debates about the likelihood of a matriarchal prehistory. Davis is a playful teacher, too—one who reminds his students that they probably got their first taste of Norse myth watching Bugs Bunny sing the role of Brunhilde in “What’s Opera, Doc?” Specialists in the upper echelons of academia will no doubt find something to grumble about in Davis’s popularizing methodology, but even professors will have to concede that Davis has done his research—his annotated bibliography is excellent—and that he’s a laudably conscientious scholar.

An accessible and informed guide to an always-fascinating subject, and an ideal reference for the general reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-019460-X

Page Count: 560

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2005

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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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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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