An uneven but revelatory introduction to the story, though certainly not the last word.

WORDS WILL BREAK CEMENT

THE PASSION OF PUSSY RIOT

A Russian-American journalist faces considerable challenges in telling the story of a punk band that most know only by its notorious name.

While considering flight rather than facing trial for a performance within Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the members of Pussy Riot decided not to flee their homeland, since that option “was for serious people in real trouble, not for intellectual pranksters who presented themselves as silly young girls.” Ultimately, they found themselves in serious trouble, bordering almost on torture: an extended pretrial imprisonment, a trial that left no doubt from the outset as to the verdict, and the two-year sentences that two of the defendants have been serving (a third challenged the verdict after switching lawyers and had her sentence suspended). Ultimately, in impact and consequences, Pussy Riot makes the Sex Pistols look as harmless as the Monkees by comparison. The problem with this illuminating book is that Gessen (The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, 2012) is both too close and not close enough. While she lacked access to the incarcerated members once worldwide attention justified a book such as this (likely to capitalize on the profile it helps raise, just as it analyzes how some involved have hopes of capitalizing), she does not provide the detail required by those readers who may not understand the intricacies and absurdities of the Russian legal system. The reporting of the trial is the most vivid, as the three articulate, intelligent defendants face diversionary charges of blasphemy in the church instead of the anti-Putin protest they were plainly making. “How did our performance, a small and somewhat absurd act to begin with, balloon into a full-fledged catastrophe?” asked one in a closing statement. “Obviously, this could not have happened in a healthy society.” Losing in court, they emerged victorious in the eyes of the world, which awaits the next chapter in what could become a significant career.

An uneven but revelatory introduction to the story, though certainly not the last word.

Pub Date: March 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59463-219-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 13

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more