An engaging and inviting study of humanity’s long-standing fear of the other.

THE MONARCHY OF FEAR

A PHILOSOPHER LOOKS AT OUR POLITICAL CRISIS

A philosopher considers Trumpism through the lens of history, classical thought, and a bit of Hamilton.

Like any clearheaded thinker, Nussbaum (Law and Ethics/Univ. of Chicago; Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice, 2016, etc.) was unsettled by Trump’s election, but she’s troubled also by the way people of all political persuasions have succumbed to fear and mindless fear-slinging. She tries to keep Trump at arm's length and focus instead on what philosophers and psychologists going back to antiquity have had to say about fear (“genetically first among the emotions”), its role in stoking anger, disgust, and envy, and how those emotions in turn perpetuate divisive politics (sexism and misogyny especially). That approach gives this important book both up-to-the-moment relevance and long-view gravitas. Athenian debates over wiping out enemies, for instance, reveal the enduring ways that “fear can be manipulated by true and false information.” For centuries, irrational fear about others being unclean and untouchable has been shaped into discriminatory policy and violence. Envy has long provoked attitudes of one-upmanship that support systemic oppression or foolish practices like dueling—Nussbaum writes at length about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical in this context, focusing on Aaron Burr’s and Alexander Hamilton’s competitive natures. But while the author generally takes the long view on these conflagrations, she also wrestles with contemporary rhetoric and social media. Unlike the Stoics and Cynics of the past (or her more emotionally cool contemporaries), she’s more willing to subscribe to hope and faith as solutions, using Martin Luther King Jr. as a key exemplar. Her main prescription for fixing a fear-struck America is straightforward: effectively making AmeriCorps mandatory, an act that “would put young citizens into close contact with people different in age, ethnicity, and economic level.” Nothing would do more to eradicate fear of the other, she argues, though she acknowledges that America at the moment would be too scared to pull it off.

An engaging and inviting study of humanity’s long-standing fear of the other.

Pub Date: July 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7249-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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