GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI

THE MURDER OF MEDGAR EVERS, THE TRIALS OF BYRON DE LA BECKWITH, AND THE HAUNTING OF THE NEW SOUTH

The third entry in the current ``Evers/Beckwith: What It All Means About the South'' derby, following Adam Nossiter's Of Long History and Reed Massengill's Portrait of a Racist (both 1994). Vollers, a freelance journalist, is a stylish writer and a good researcher. She gets plenty of factual detail and psychological insight into her biographical portraits of the main players: Medgar Evers, the Mississippi civil rights leader murdered in 1963; Byron De La Beckwith, the outspoken racist finally convicted of the murder in 1994 after two earlier mistrials; and others, such as Justice Department attorney John Doar and Hinds County, Miss., investigators Charlie Crisco and Bobby DeLaughter, who unearthed the evidence that brought Beckwith to trial for the third time. Her accounts of all three trials illuminate how the criminal justice system is dependent on the idiosyncrasies of prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys. The opening chapter describing an uninvited visit to Beckwith—high-spirited despite his incarceration, casually spouting racist epithets against Jews as well as blacks—sets the stage nicely, although anyone who has read Nossiter's account of a similar encounter will have a sense of dÇjÖ vu. Vollers slips in only two major respects: She portrays Beckwith as typical of white Southern bigotry, when in fact he was beyond the pale; and she succumbs to the temptation to offer well- worn generalizations about the tormented south that add nothing to our understanding of the case. The last sentence of the book is typical of her overreaching: Afer the trial, ``...what remained was still Mississippi, haunted ground: a place at war with its own history and destined to repeat its past, like a soul being reborn again and again until it gets it right.'' For those who know little about the Evers-Beckwith story, a book worth reading; for those familiar with earlier works or the more than 30 years of media coverage, not much revelatory here.

Pub Date: April 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-316-91485-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1995

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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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