SHADOWBOSSES

GOVERNMENT UNIONS CONTROL AMERICA AND ROB TAXPAYERS BLIND

A squandered opportunity to make a trenchant, constructive critique of U.S. unions.

An errant stab at vilifying government-employee unions as an elemental cause behind national woes.

Those unions, write the Factors, are controlled by “shadowbosses,” a nefarious cabal seeking to bloat the government bureaucracy and milk the working stiff of “forcibly collected” dues (and, by extension, the taxpayer footing the bills) in order to buy off politicians, who then in turn, cast a favorable eye on union needs and activities. This all sounds like the Supreme Court’s recent campaign finance “reform,” or more broadly, American politics since Jackson. Certainly, there are many questions, charges even, that could be leveled at today’s unions: racketeering, extortion, pension fraud, cronyism and embezzlement. But the authors see a much darker scenario, nothing less than a shadow government (à la Dick Cheney, though the authors certainly wouldn’t use that example) bent on national domination. The Factors make valid points about critical-service workers—TSA, nurses, police, firemen and the military—holding some serious aces up their collective-bargaining sleeves. However, when they take teachers to task for poor performance without addressing neighborhood poverty or lament the iniquity of union workers getting paid more than nonunion (which is kind of the point) or those halcyon days when public-minded government servants took pride in their work (“that service meant sacrifice in terms of pay”), then pass the salt. When the authors begin trotting out Sean Hannity, Charles Krauthammer, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, the heading has been set. One thing is for sure, and it goes begging here: Nothing has even been given to the American worker without a fight, sometimes a bloody one.

A squandered opportunity to make a trenchant, constructive critique of U.S. unions.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4555-2274-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Center Street/Hachette

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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