Re-conceives the dialogue about race in America, which is too often reduced to glib generalities due to a false sense of...

LAST CHANCE

THE POLITICAL THREAT TO BLACK AMERICA

“The more things change, the more things stay the same,” observes former New York Times and Washington Post reporter Daniels in this modern take on the ills of inequality.

He frames his argument around the candidacy of Barack Obama, the biracial Democrat whose unlikely success in the quest for the presidency has resurrected a long-dormant discussion about race in America. Daniels places special emphasis on a paradox of relatively recent development: Unprecedented achievement by high-profile blacks like Obama has overshadowed the poverty in which the majority of African-Americans still struggle. The author doesn’t cover much new territory, but his updates of oft-discussed troubles are particularly relevant in this historic election year. Among the issues he revisits and reconsiders: affirmative action, black identity and a failure of the traditional sources of African-American leadership. He bombards the reader with statistics and data seemingly without end but weaves them skillfully into the text with a literary aplomb. His exploration of the Republican Party’s failure to integrate black politicians or woo an African-American constituency is particularly engaging. Conspicuously missing from this otherwise balanced text, however, is an equally substantial investigation of the Democrats’ flaws. Daniels’s frank discussion of the failure of black civil society shines brightest. The editor for ten years of the National Urban League’s flagship publications, he takes both his former employer and the NAACP to task for failing to provide a cohesive national platform. Their ineffectiveness stems, he argues, from diversifying and delegating too many responsibilities to smaller organizations and a reluctance to embrace the new tool of social organizing—the Internet. Daniels also weaves into his theme such recent notes as the Jena Six, the University of Michigan’s affirmative-action policies and Obama’s degree of blackness.

Re-conceives the dialogue about race in America, which is too often reduced to glib generalities due to a false sense of propriety and desire for harmony at any price.

Pub Date: June 16, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-58648-495-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2008

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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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