A vacation for some, a nightmare for others. Either way, well worth reading.

A NUCLEAR FAMILY VACATION

TRAVELS IN THE WORLD OF ATOMIC WEAPONRY

An unlikely itinerary for WarGames addicts, with bonuses for geopolitics buffs as well.

Wired contributor Weinberger (Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon’s Scientific Underworld, 2006) and Jane’s Defence Weekly contributor Hodge haven’t exactly hit on a new idea with this tour of nuclear facilities of the Cold War and the present; fellow journalists Tad Bartimus and Scott McCartney scooped them in 1991 with Trinity’s Children: Living Along America’s Nuclear Highway. The older book remains readable and oddly entertaining, as is the newcomer, which has many virtues of its own. Not least, and perhaps most newsworthy, is the authors’ “nuclear junketeering” trip to Iran, a nation whose nuclear history, they smartly observe, “was not always that of a pariah state.” Indeed, back when the shah was in power—all the way back to Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace initiative—America was glad to see Iran develop nuclear facilities, even supplying a research reactor that went online in 1967. By 1976, the authors add, Iran was projected to have 20 nuclear plants, a development stymied by unrest and revolution that, perhaps ironically, delayed the country’s nuclear growth for decades. That was then; now Condoleezza Rice huffs that “Iran needs no civil nuclear power.” These are weird times indeed, and this travelogue takes readers into some of the weirder corners, including Wyoming missile silos and the nation’s premier nuclear museum, in which one exhibit boasts two seemingly contradictory messages: one that nukes aren’t scary, “while also demonstrating that nuclear weapons weren’t terrifying enough to make anyone think twice about using them.” Weirdest, perhaps, is the authors’ venture to Siberia, where plenty of old-school hard-liners are still eager to lob a few ICBMs our way. The authors write with intelligence and good humor, though they end on a disquieting note: The last president to spend much time thinking about nuclear weapons was Reagan. Meanwhile, we’re sitting atop “a nuclear arsenal that serves many purposes, but no particular end.”

A vacation for some, a nightmare for others. Either way, well worth reading.

Pub Date: June 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59691-378-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2008

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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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