Periodically smashing, periodically pedestrian.



A sci-fi short story starring the Grateful Dead, a heartfelt homage to jazz giants Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk, a tall-tale about a ghostly Robert Johnson tune and 39 other bite-sized chunks of mostly tasty musical goodness.

Many of the finest music writers are a tad humorless. Robert Christgau, for example, can be massively cranky, while Peter Guralnick can be massively staid. So when a whimsical collection of music fiction and criticism comes along, it’s worth paying attention, if only because the funniest music scribe of all time, Lester Bangs, is, you know, dead. (This oddball stew has the savor of Bangs’s work, spiced with a smidgen of Nick Hornby and a pinch of Philip K. Dick.) A busy freelance journalist, Myers appears regularly on All Things Considered, and a number of the brief essays in his debut were previously heard on NPR. The longer “fables,” on the other hand, are new. In the most memorable of them, Adam Coil V travels 100 years through time “Back to the Fillmore” for a 1969 Grateful Dead gig; he parties with the Hell’s Angels, loses his virginity to a hippie chick called “Cinnamon Girl” and basks in the sounds of young Jerry Garcia. Playing Black Sabbath music unmasks human-seeming aliens in another goofy highlight, “Who Will Save the World?” While the book is aimed at rock-’n’-roll nuts, the most impressive straight journalism is jazz-oriented, specifically the aforementioned Blakey/Monk article and a fond tribute to saxophonist Albert Ayler. Analyses of Lou Reed, Frank Zappa and Doug Sahm are solid, if unspectacular journalistic pieces that pale when nestled beside the more vibrant and original fiction. Had Myers concentrated on storytelling, he might have crossed over to a wider audience. As it is, his book will be loved by music nerds but merely appreciated (at best) by casual music fans.

Periodically smashing, periodically pedestrian.

Pub Date: April 10, 2007

ISBN: 0-06-113901-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2007

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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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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

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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. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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