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THE UNBANKING OF AMERICA

HOW THE NEW MIDDLE CLASS SURVIVES

Servon’s approachable if somewhat academic study is an indictment of a financial structure bent on large returns at the...

Banks seldom have much green money these days—and not many customers, either.

As Servon (City and Regional Planning/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Bridging the Digital Divide: Technology, Community, and Public Policy, 2002, etc.) writes, banks have changed since their heyday half a century ago; in becoming too big to fail, they devote almost no attention to small-scale customers, who used to comprise the bulk of their constituency. Now, banks cater to corporate customers, and where they deal with private clients at all, it is often to soak them for overdraft charges while steadily lowering lines of credit. “People who were approved for credit cards in 2011 were offered only half the amount offered to those approved in 2005,” writes the author. In one case that Servon offers almost offhandedly, a young single mother who had steadily worked her way out of a credit trough overdrew a checking account by $10 and was hit by $300 in various penalties and fees. It’s no way to run an equitable railroad, but the banks are in the business of cash equity only. Enter informal and alternative systems of banking such as check-cashing services, some more or less ethical, some nakedly predatory, and private associations such as the Latino tanda, whose members pool funds. All “substitute for or complement relationships with formal institutions.” Servon provides firsthand knowledge of how they work, having taken time out from academia to work as a teller and loan collector. Her conclusions reinforce the developing thesis that people move into banking and informal systems situationally, “depending on what they needed and the resources available to them.” This is not earthshaking news, but the author delivers valuable evidence on the fragility of the personal economies of most Americans these days, with fully half living paycheck to paycheck.

Servon’s approachable if somewhat academic study is an indictment of a financial structure bent on large returns at the expense of all else, but it also offers hope for ways around that ravenous system.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-60231-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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