Berman lets it loose to humble authority and hierarchy. (illustrations, not seen)

WANDERING GOD

A STUDY IN NOMADIC SPIRITUALITY

Promising, vivid speculations on the evolution of mental states and varieties of consciousness from Berman (Coming to Our

Senses, not reviewed). In this third volume of his trilogy on the paths of consciousness, Berman traces the societal movement from horizontal, egalitarian relations to vertical, hierarchical ones. Lost in the transition, according to Berman, was the magic of everyday life, the hunter-gatherer's alertness that captures the eternal in a moment of permanent ephemerality. The integration of the universal into the particular through the acceptance of (and the revelation of living in) the world as it is also tamps the pain of alienation following in the wake of recognizing a separate self. Berman draws upon research to refute the interpretation of the Paleolithic period as myth-drenched; instead, he tenders the possibility it was marked by paradox—an utter watchfulness within the numinous landscape—in which children "cathected the whole environment" to mend the split between self and world. Whereas human beings are hard-wired to be on the move—"movement is the physiological substrate of the paradoxical experience"—sedentism and agriculture have been "forced upon us by a combination of external circumstances and a latent drive for power and inequality." Openness to experience faded, certainties and absolutes replaced our need for uncertainty and surprise, paradigms follow paradigms as ultimate (and ineffectual) fixes. Unfortunately, we can't just superimpose nomadic spirituality over our verticalities. As Wittgenstein recognized, and Berman concurs, "there finally is no way of jettisoning the transcendent without drifting into incoherence." But paradox can be a gadfly, challenging our notions of destiny, heroism, and certainty, exposing ourselves to the congruence of hunter-gatherer life, and, Berman suggests, "if our culture does have a future, it may well depend on the development of the dialectical possibilities that exist between horizontal and vertical aspects of life." Gilgamesh understood the paradox; it glimmers in works from Alice Miller to Ortega y Gassett to Bernadette Roberts; and

Berman lets it loose to humble authority and hierarchy. (illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-7914-4441-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2000

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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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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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