Readers of Bowden’s work are assured of honest, straightforward, painstakingly researched essays.

THE THREE BATTLES OF WANAT

AND OTHER TRUE STORIES

Collected magazine articles and essays by wide-ranging journalist Bowden (Writer in Residence/Univ. of Delaware; The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden, 2012, etc.).

Divided into categories familiar to the author’s readers, his deeply researched work on war, profiles of prominent, interesting people and sports personalities, and a variety of general interest essays (e.g., his wacky experiment with guinea hens) represent fine examples of contemporary journalism, as the author himself looks to his investigative models such as Nellie Bly, Ida Tarbell, and John Hersey. The most probing essay is the lengthy title article, first published in 2011 in Vanity Fair, which tracks the fallout from the single most violent day’s battle in the Afghanistan War, July 13, 2008, during which nine American soldiers were killed in action in Wanat. Bowden looks deeply into a very painful, complicated episode for the U.S. Army, which was blamed for the death of Lt. Jonathan Brostrom by his father, a retired army colonel who accused the leadership of putting the men in needless danger at Wanat. Yet while the author expresses compassion for the father’s pain, he also ascertains the many facets to the story, which underscore that the officers were doing exactly what they were trained to do. In “The Last Ace,” published in the Atlantic in 2009, Bowden explores the changing nature of America’s fighter pilots, reflecting the swift advances in air power. In “The Killing Machines” (2013), also published in the Atlantic, the author delves into the morally complex history of the use of drones. Some of the detailed character profiles include those of Vice President Joe Biden, Korean dictator Kim Jung Un, New York Times publisher and chairman Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., and extraordinary lawyer Judy Clarke, who manages to keep the worst killers in America (Ted Kaczynski, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Zacarias Moussaoui, and others) from getting the death sentence.

Readers of Bowden’s work are assured of honest, straightforward, painstakingly researched essays.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2411-1

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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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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