For readers with a strong interest in environmental and public health and food safety policy, this may be one of the most...

OUR DAILY POISON

FROM PESTICIDES TO PACKAGING, HOW CHEMICALS HAVE CONTAMINATED THE FOOD CHAIN AND ARE MAKING US SICK

A thorough examination of industrial chemicals in our food chain by an acclaimed French journalist and documentary filmmaker.

In this companion book to her documentary of the same name, Robin (The World According to Monsanto, 2010) argues that the destructive effects of poorly studied and regulated industrial chemicals have been greater than their benefits. She is clear about her bias from the beginning: Growing up in a farm family, she is personally outraged by what she argues are the preventable diseases, deformities and deaths brought about by the chemical industry's prioritization of profit over public health. However, she plunges deep into the scientific, historical and political details of these issues, and readers who want to argue with her conclusions have their work cut out for them. Robin builds her arguments methodically and reinforces them with exhaustive evidence that she gathered during two years of international research, including personal interviews, historical and archival documents, and rigorous medical studies. A few of the topics discussed include the origins of the chemical industry in chemical warfare; its history of "strategizing how to control and manipulate research on the toxicity of its products, while waging a merciless war on all the scientists wishing to maintain their independence in the name of the defense of public health”; the modern epidemic of cancers and other diseases that exploded at the end of the 19th century; the weaknesses of epidemiological studies; the idea of acceptable daily intake; case studies of specific chemicals; and the "cocktail effect." There are several painful stories of poisoning victims’ struggles for recognition and compensation, which serve to break up and humanize the flood of technical information. In her conclusion, Robin calls for a new precautionary approach to approving chemicals that errs on the side of protecting people rather than industry.

For readers with a strong interest in environmental and public health and food safety policy, this may be one of the most important books of the year.

Pub Date: Dec. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1595589095

Page Count: 480

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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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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