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UNEASY PEACE

THE GREAT CRIME DECLINE, THE RENEWAL OF CITY LIFE, AND THE NEXT WAR ON VIOLENCE

A rich, complex book that makes splendid use of data to trace the recent renaissance of city neighborhoods and how children...

A sociologist’s account of the “stunning” decline in urban American violence in the past two decades.

In a nuanced work based on three years of research on the ways in which dwindling crime has “altered” city life—mainly for the better—Sharkey (Chair, Sociology/New York Univ.; Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress Toward Racial Equality, 2013) provides significant new data showing how, since the 1990s, cities have come back to life. Families returned from the suburbs. Poor neighborhoods attracted newcomers. Schools became safer. Fewer homicides sparked “an improvement in the life expectancy of black men that rivals any public health breakthrough of the last several decades.” Indeed, “2014 was the safest on record in New York, and one of the safest in U.S. history,” he writes. Quick to note that most Americans don’t believe these trends (largely due to crime-heavy local news reporting and outright misleading news), Sharkey shows how an era of intensive policing, punitive criminal justice policies, aggressive prosecution of offenders, unprecedented incarceration, and uncommon mobilization of community residents has produced these remarkable changes. He examines how neighborhood organizations have emerged as “guardians” of urban spaces, the roles of private security and surveillance, and the many benefits of safer streets, especially for the disadvantaged. There are excellent sections on how children are affected by inequality and violence, the changing nature of life in gentrified Harlem and Washington, D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, and the role of videos in unleashing “intense, visceral anger” in poor communities over clashes with police. With signs that violent crime has risen in the last few years, the author argues that sustained investment in stronger neighborhoods (preparing them for the coming return of incarcerated residents), with more community-minded police and other advocates, must occur under concerted action by the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

A rich, complex book that makes splendid use of data to trace the recent renaissance of city neighborhoods and how children and the poor flourish in a time of relative peace.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-60960-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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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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