A valuable look at strategic thought and planning, one full of bad scenarios—and not much room for hope.

ALL HELL BREAKING LOOSE

THE PENTAGON'S PERSPECTIVE ON CLIMATE CHANGE

Though the White House may not believe that the climate is changing for the worse, the U.S. military does.

As Klare (Emeritus, Peace and World Security Studies/Hampshire Coll.; The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, 2012, etc.) writes, one of Donald Trump’s early acts in office was to countermand an executive order issued by Barack Obama instructing the military to identify threats to future operations and “enhance climate preparedness and resilience.” Given that so much of America’s arsenal is located and operates in climate-sensitive areas—along the coasts and in increasingly turbulent skies and seas—that order made good sense, but Trump gave pride of place to “the unbridled exploitation of America’s oil, coal, and natural gas reserves" instead. The military, writes the author, has been assessing climate change all the same, recognizing both that the U.S., like all nations, is susceptible to climate-related catastrophes such as hurricanes and drought and, moreover, that such disasters “will generate cascading effects within affected communities, triggering all sorts of disruptive and unpredictable outcomes.” Among the geopolitical hot spots that Klare identifies are an increasingly iceless Arctic Ocean, effectively a “whole new ocean” that the Navy must guard against Russian encroachment; and the nations of South Asia, where climate change is worsening already fraught relations between India and Pakistan. Senior officials in all branches of the service, “proceeding in their efforts to prepare for combat on a climate-altered planet,” have thus been examining future possibilities as well as observing the already evident effects of climate change, such as the flooding earlier this year that inundated a wing of the nuclear-capable Strategic Command and other military bases along the nation’s interior rivers. Klare closes by expressing hope that “under a new administration, these voices will be heard more widely, and we will all benefit from these officers’ valuable insights.”

A valuable look at strategic thought and planning, one full of bad scenarios—and not much room for hope.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62779-248-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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