A book that offers a worthwhile reflection on racial relations in America but a hagiographic interpretation of Obama’s...

Witness to Greatness


A self-described admirer of President Barack Obama makes the case for his greatness.

Whatever judgment one ultimately makes of Obama’s presidency, it is certainly one of historical significance, not the least because he’s the first African-American to occupy the Oval Office. Debut author Nwasokwa argues, as the book’s title suggests, that Obama can already be judged a great president on meritocratic grounds as well. Nwasokwa presents a detailed history of Obama’s rising political fortunes, beginning with his emergence into the spotlight at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Shortly after, despite his own admittedly brief resume in Washington, D.C., Obama ran for the highest office in the land. The author gives a remarkably granular account of his subject’s implausible electoral success, surely an underdog against a powerfully entrenched establishment candidate, including a provocative discussion of the controversy involving Obama’s spiritual mentor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Nwasokwa’s treatment then largely revolves around what he considers to be the major achievements of Obama’s tenure, focusing on his economic stimulus programs and the passage of health care reform legislation. The author liberally sprinkles in autobiographical asides in the book, sometimes discussing his own experiences as an African-American in the United States. These are some of the finest sections of this volume, and Nwasokwa thoughtfully considers the historical contradictions that beset the United States, a country of great opportunity and generosity but also persistent racism and social inequity. The prose often lacks discipline, providing pagelong paragraphs overloaded with information that too often tax the reader. But the principal failing of the study is that the author’s fawning adoration makes it impossible for him to capture the complexity of Obama’s often controversial presidency. Nwasokwa glosses over the criticisms of the president’s major policy achievements, even those forwarded from the political left. For example, despite nuanced debates even within Obama’s own party regarding his stewardship of the economy from the recession, the author concludes that all of the president’s reforms “succeeded beyond expectation.” While there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to “savor and honor” Obama’s leadership, such adoration renders both objectivity and the appreciation of dissent impossible.

A book that offers a worthwhile reflection on racial relations in America but a hagiographic interpretation of Obama’s presidency. 

Pub Date: March 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5144-5271-4

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2016

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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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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.


“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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