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DOUBLE FOLD

LIBRARIES AND THE ASSAULT ON PAPER

If even half of what Baker alleges is true, some of America's most honored librarians have a lot of explaining to do.

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In a passionate cri de coeur sure to raise controversy and alarm, novelist Baker (The Everlasting Story of Nory, 1998, etc.) accuses America’s librarians of betraying the public trust as they rush to microfilm and digitize.

Since the 1950s, writes Baker, American libraries have been microfilming newspapers and discarding the originals because, they claimed, paper manufactured since 1850 from wood pulp (more acidic than its rag-based predecessor) was rapidly crumbling to dust and would soon be unreadable. “Absolute nonsense,” retorts Baker, quoting a paper conservation scholar who claims that, when properly stored, old newspapers and books do not disintegrate. The real agenda of the “reformatters”—and among Baker’s principle villains are such respected library names as Fremont Rider, Verner Clapp, Peter Sparks, and Patricia Battin—is to save shelf space and cut costs. That’s why they also manufactured a “brittle books” crisis (based largely on the inappropriate double-fold test that gives this work its title) to convince Congress and the public that old books also should be filmed or computer-scanned and thrown away. In a blistering point-by-point rebuttal, Baker points out that microfilming costs more in the long term than building additional storage facilities; that library users loathe microfilm, which is hard to read at best and undecipherable at worst; that quality control has been so sketchy that whole months are missing from newspaper runs supposedly filmed in their entirety; and that it's inexcusable to destroy books’ bindings in order to film them when spring-balanced book cradles have been available since the 1930s. Digital storage is also ridiculously expensive, and the image comes nowhere near matching the paper original. Due to the author’s eagerness to dismember every justification offered by his opponents, the narrative has a relentless comprehensiveness that may weary even the most sympathetic reader. It’s leavened by acid humor: Baker remarks of one librarian’s metaphor comparing microfilming to chemotherapy, “radiation therapy . . . has a reasonable chance of keeping a patient alive [while] your typical late-eighties preservation-reformatter disposed of the patient after a last afternoon on the X-ray table.”

If even half of what Baker alleges is true, some of America's most honored librarians have a lot of explaining to do.

Pub Date: April 13, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-50444-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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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. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

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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