MONEY WELL SPENT?

THE TRUTH BEHIND THE TRILLION-DOLLAR STIMULUS, THE BIGGEST ECONOMIC RECOVERY PLAN IN HISTORY

A deeply reported, well-written account of a difficult topic to capture, partly because of the complexity and partly because...

A journalist investigates the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, seeking to determine whether the Obama administration’s effort to ameliorate the previous administration’s economic recession has been performing as hoped.

ProPublica reporter Grabell began the book after hearing Joe Biden present a speech seven months after Congressional Democrats approved the law without a single Republican vote in the House of Representatives and nearly zero support in the Senate. Because the stimulus involved so much money scattered over so many government programs, Grabell decided to go broad instead of deep in the narrative. He does, however, dig deep in regards to three portions of the stimulus package: providing new jobs in Elkhart, Ind., after the collapse of industry there; the cleanup of an aging nuclear power plant in Aiken, S.C.; and the manufacturing of solar panels in Fremont, Calif., as part of a concerted effort to reduce air pollution across the nation. Some of Grabell's saga is necessarily grounded in previously reported partisan politics, as the newly elected president realized his Republican opposition seemed to be placing his hoped-for election defeat in 2012 above any nonpartisanship that might create new jobs and save existing ones. The author explains how the Republican strategy of fierce opposition led to its takeover of the House of Representatives in the 2010 election. Wisely, though, Grabell devotes much of the narrative to state and local government officials, including K-12 educators, who have been trying to determine how to obtain and wisely spend dollars from the stimulus package. The author concludes that Obama and his team succeeded in saving lots of jobs and creating a modest number of new jobs, but that the Democrats oversold the impact of the stimulus.

A deeply reported, well-written account of a difficult topic to capture, partly because of the complexity and partly because the stimulus package remains a work in progress.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-61039-009-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2011

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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

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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. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

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. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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