A lively set of dispatches that shows how even the harshest skeptic in the pundit class can be blindsided.

INSANE CLOWN PRESIDENT

DISPATCHES FROM THE 2016 CIRCUS

Looking back in bemusement and (eventually) anger at the 2016 presidential campaign with Rolling Stone’s pugnacious political correspondent.

This collection of long- and short-form reports by Taibbi (The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, 2014, etc.) unfolds as a comedy that slowly turns into a horror movie. In August 2015, he was having a sardonic laugh at the “GOP clown car,” the dire assortment of Republican presidential candidates. Sure, the presence of Donald J. Trump in the field ran the risk of his becoming “the most dangerous person in America.” But even up until Election Day, Taibbi never quite believed Trump had a chance at the White House. Early on in the race, he was casually establishing debate drinking-game rules and speculating about (of all things) who’d play John Kasich in the movie version of the campaign. Once Taibbi began attending Trump’s rageoholic populist rallies in early 2016, though, he sobered up and delivered a darker vision of a country menaced by media manipulation. Vivid zingers remain Taibbi’s calling card: George Will is an “establishment GOP spokesghoul,” and he likens Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson’s rhetorical contortions to “a kitten try[ing] to crawl out of a wood-chipper.” Though he expends most of his powder on conservatives, the author wasn’t much impressed with Hillary Clinton either: he criticizes his employer’s official endorsement of her, arguing that “she has been playing the inside game for so long, she seems to have become lost in it.” Taibbi is cleareyed about the populist forces and fractured media landscape Trump exploited, but given his admission of underestimating Trump’s chances, his first-chapter victory lap, which annotates a chapter from his 2008 book, The Great Derangement, to show how much he’s correctly predicted, feels defensive if not unseemly.

A lively set of dispatches that shows how even the harshest skeptic in the pundit class can be blindsided.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-59246-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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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