An ardent and timely case for taking a multipronged approach to ending working-class America’s long decline.

TIGHTROPE

AMERICANS REACHING FOR HOPE

Pulitzer Prize winners Kristof and WuDunn (A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, 2014, etc.) zero in on working-class woes and how to ease them.

With an earnest blend of shoe-leather reporting and advocacy for social justice, the married journalists send a clear message to anyone who wants to see working-class Americans prosper: Stop blaming them for making “bad choices” and for failing to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps.” While acknowledging the need for personal responsibility—and for aid from private charities—the authors make a forceful case that the penalties for missteps fall unequally on the rich and poor in spheres that include education, health care, employment, and the judicial system; to end the injustices, the government also must act. “After Harvey Weinstein was arrested for sexual assault following accusations by more than eighty women, he was freed on bail,” they write. “In contrast, a young adult caught smoking marijuana may be unable to afford bail and stuck indefinitely in jail, losing his job and, unable to make payments, perhaps his home and car as well.” In making their case, the authors describe what they saw in Kristof’s hometown of Yamhill, Oregon, where the loss of well-paying union jobs and other upheavals have left a community in peril. Elsewhere, they find hope in initiatives such as the Remote Area Medical aid group, which offers free health care in Appalachia, and the Women in Recovery program in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which gives some offenders counseling instead of prison time, leading to lower recidivism rates. At times, the authors sound less like print journalists than like politicians (we’re wasting “America’s most important resource, its people”) or Oprah (“Ten Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes To Make a Difference”). Whatever the tone, the book is enhanced by the more than two dozen black-and-white photographs by award-winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario.

An ardent and timely case for taking a multipronged approach to ending working-class America’s long decline.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65508-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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