Somewhat uneven writing amid a myriad of powerful images.


A visually stunning presentation of the lives of women and children surviving under the worst circumstances in Burma, Mexico, Russia and Malawi.

The project is a joint production of actress/reporter Kirshner, writer MacKinnon (Dead Man in Paradise: Unraveling a Murder from a Time of Evolution, 2007, etc.) and Shoebridge and Simons, creative directors at Adbusters. (The book also contains work from Chris Abani, Phoebe Gloeckner, Joe Sacco and others.) The authors open with the anonymous stories of refugees along the Thailand-Burma border, featuring sex workers in Burmese brothels where the HIV/AIDS rate is 25 percent, and children forced into service in the Burmese army. The horrific stories of rape, abortion and violence they tell are accompanied by equally disturbing artwork that combines paintings, drawings, text and photographs. In Russia, the setting is the Republic of Ingushetia, home to refugee camps filled with displaced persons from neighboring Chechnya. Included here is a stark six-part graphic novel, “Chechen War, Chechen Women,” depicting the grim lives of women during and after the war. The Mexican section looks at the lives of missing and murdered girls in Ciudad Juárez and features a still-missing teenager, Ericka, whose story is illustrated with Polaroid snapshots of empty rooms annotated by her mother, and Claudia, a murdered 20-year-old whose short life is illustrated with sketches, documents, posters, needlework pictures and collages. In Malawi, where HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis are decimating the villages, a simple, poignant story of birth, life and death from “the wasting disease” is accompanied by delicate, lovely illustrations. The inmates of Kachere Prison, mostly poor orphan boys awaiting trial, narrate their stories of murder and minor theft, with the text superimposed over bleak, harsh, poster-like blocks of type. Kirshner, who visited the brothels, refugee camps and prisons in each of these countries to interview the subjects, links the pieces, provides the background necessary to understand each situation and offers her thoughts and impressions. The contributions of her collaborators are not individually identified, but the visuals lift this work above the ordinary.

Somewhat uneven writing amid a myriad of powerful images.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-375-42478-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2008

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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