An offbeat but deeply researched look at the negative effects of recreational weed use.



A debut nonfiction book warns against the underreported health risks of marijuana use.

One of the successes of the weed legalization movement has been to persuade the public that marijuana is not the boogeyman that decades of anti-drug campaigns have made it out to be. But weed activists have been so successful that the documented health risks associated with recreational marijuana use are not widely known or discussed. “There is growing evidence that because weed is being legalized, people think that marijuana is safe for everyone,” writes Becker in his introduction. “This is simply not true. If you only get your information from the internet, you are getting a mashup of myths, facts, self-promotion, confirmation bias, opinion, and marketing.” With this book, the author seeks to advise consumers (particularly young ones) on the current state of medical research regarding the potentially harmful side effects that marijuana use can cause. He walks readers through the wealth of scientific information already available, demonstrating the ways that marijuana can have deleterious effects on the brain, mental health conditions, pregnancy, the cardiovascular system, and other parts of the body. He also discusses the negative societal impacts of recreational weed use, including on educational achievement, employment, and car accidents. Becker’s prose does not channel the stereotypical stoner suggested by the title, though it is informal and idiosyncratic: “The human brain is generally thought to be the most complex organ in the human body. Dolphins and elephants also have complex brains and, in fact, have bigger brains than we do, so don’t go around being all superior and such.” He lays out his politics early in the volume—he supports decriminalization and medicalization, but not “Budweiser-ization”—and he meticulously cites his sources. (The reference notes themselves number 95 pages.) The book includes some delightfully trippy illustrations by Hopkins, like a fetus inside a bong. The work is more serious and less scolding than the title implies, though it is perhaps an unlikely vehicle for reaching the young consumers the author hopes to save.

An offbeat but deeply researched look at the negative effects of recreational weed use.

Pub Date: March 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73675-210-4

Page Count: 222

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2021

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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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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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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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