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A hauntingly cleareyed and poignant memoir with strong, illustrative reportage.

A journalist examines the forces that allowed her to escape the limitations of a rural upbringing but caused a beloved friend to fall into poverty and despair.

Driven to understand why poor, uneducated White women were dying at higher rates than ever before, Potts, a senior politics reporter for FiveThirtyEight, went back to her Ozark hometown to live and work. Her professional interest in the subject belied a more personal reason for her return. Until she left to attend Bryn Mawr, Potts had spent her childhood and adolescence growing up among the very women she was now studying. Darci, a smart girl with numerous prospects, had been her best friend. However, Darci also grew up with a mother who did not set behavioral boundaries and often relied on “God’s plan” to see her through difficulties, including her volatile marriage to Darci’s father. By contrast, the author had far stricter and more grounded parents. The Potts family centered their lives on their daughters’ success, and they moved out of town to keep them away from the wayward boys, drugs, and alcohol that could prevent them from getting an education. A set of fortuitous accidents offered Potts the opportunity to attend a Barnard pre-college summer program, which opened doors that allowed her to attend an elite college far from her hometown. In the meantime, pregnancy and a descent into drugs and alcohol led Darci to drop out, after which she began a heartbreaking slide into poverty, mental illness, violent relationships, and repeated incarceration. Potts pointedly examines the complicated relationship between two childhood friends who experienced radically different life outcomes, and she creates a compelling sociological and cultural portrait that illuminates the silent hopelessness destroying not just her own hometown, but rural communities across America.

A hauntingly cleareyed and poignant memoir with strong, illustrative reportage.

Pub Date: April 18, 2023

ISBN: 9780525519911

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2023

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A compelling, often chilling look inside today’s version of the Gulag.

The WNBA star recounts her imprisonment by the Putin regime.

“My horror begins in a land I thought I knew, on a trip I wish I hadn’t taken,” writes Griner. She had traveled to Russia before, playing basketball for the Yekaterinburg franchise of the Russian league during the WNBA’s off-season, but on this winter day in 2022, she was pulled aside at the Moscow airport and subjected to an unexpected search that turned up medically prescribed cannabis oil. As the author notes, at home in Arizona, cannabis is legal, but not in Russia. After initial interrogation—“They seemed determined to get me to admit I was a smuggler, some undercover drug lord supplying half the country”—she was bundled off to await a show trial that was months in coming. With great self-awareness, the author chronicles the differences between being Black and gay in America and in Russia. “When you’re in a system with no true justice,” she writes, “you’re also in a system with a bunch of gray areas.” Unfortunately, despite a skilled Russian lawyer on her side, Griner had trouble getting to those gray areas, precisely because, with rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, Putin’s people seemed intent on making an example of her. Between spells in labor camps, jails, and psych wards, the author became a careful observer of the Russian penal system and its horrors. Navigating that system proved exhausting; since her release following an exchange for an imprisoned Russian arms dealer (about which the author offers a le Carré–worthy account of the encounter in Abu Dhabi), she has been suffering from PTSD. That struggle has invigorated her, though, in her determination to free other unjustly imprisoned Americans, a plea for which closes the book.

A compelling, often chilling look inside today’s version of the Gulag.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9780593801345

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2024

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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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