But the delivery, a careless sermon to the choir, will not convince those most in need of convincing. A shame: von Hoffman’s...

HOAX

A full charge of liberal birdshot, aimed and fired at the broad side of the barn—or, better, White House.

George Bush’s recent adventure in Iraq is, Washington Post columnist von Hoffman (Capitalist Fools, 1992, etc.) asserts, a classic con game: “There was the bait (terrorism), then the switch (weapons of mass destruction), then a switch again (kill the dictator), and yet again (regime change).” As with any con, the perpetrator has to be either damn good at the game or have a particularly stupid victim in tow; von Hoffman does not dwell unseemly long on the second possibility, though he does reckon that the US differs from the bygone USSR only by lagging behind 40 years: Americans, he writes, “may not drink vodka, but add up the drunks and the Americans stoned on prescription drugs and recreational substances, and what percentage of the USA’s population is perpetually intoxicated? Thirty? Forty? But no Chernobyl, just blackouts.” The side widens, the shot scatters: here von Hoffman likens American forces’ arrival in Baghdad to “Adolf Hitler’s waltz into the Rhineland in 1936,” a woefully sloppy analogy; there he lampoons Bush’s famous—or infamous, depending on your point of view—descent onto the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, “bowlegged from his oversized cod piece, proclaiming the end of a war which was never fought to seize a cache of weapons of mass destruction which didn’t exist”; here he picks on poor George M. Cohan for supplying “pathological patriotism with a hymnal full of danceable, singable songs”; there he sneaks in a dig at modern America’s allergy to facts or critical thinking. Occasionally the author hits a target: he’s right in wondering why we went after Manuel Noriega way back when, right in recalling that our long embargo on Iraq caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of blameless children, right in pointing out the US’s infantile need to be loved and applauded by other nations.

But the delivery, a careless sermon to the choir, will not convince those most in need of convincing. A shame: von Hoffman’s done much better.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-56025-582-X

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Nation Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2004

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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