Shrewd, witty, informed essays that are much needed in our anti-intellectual age.

ARGUING WITH ZOMBIES

ECONOMICS, POLITICS, AND THE FIGHT FOR A BETTER FUTURE

Penetrating analyses of urgent, controversial problems.

Krugman (Economics/City Univ. of New York; End This Depression Now!, 2012, etc.), winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, gathers more than 90 articles, most from his New York Times columns, lucidly explaining often confounding economic issues. Prefacing each of 18 sections with a cogent overview, the author takes on topics that include social security, health care, the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath (essays that comprise more than a third of the book), the myths of austerity, Europe’s economic problems, tax cuts, trade wars, inequality, climate change, and, not least, the damage being inflicted by Donald Trump and his enablers. Many of the pieces are hard-hitting arguments against zombie ideas, “an idea that should have been killed by evidence, but refuses to die.” Zombie ideas, Krugman asserts, are put forth by “influential people” who “move in circles in which repeating” such ideas “is a badge of seriousness, an assertion of tribal identity.” Alternatively, ideas such as climate change denial, which persist despite prolific evidence, are “better described as cockroach ideas—false claims you may think you’ve gotten rid of, but keep coming back.” There are plenty of villains in Krugman’s crosshairs: the “anti-labor” extremist Brett Kavanaugh, “flimflam man” Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Bernie Madoff, George W. Bush and his “fraudulent march to war,” and Ronald Reagan, to name a few. Many essays focus on the current president. “It’s not just that Trump has assembled an administration of the worst and dimmest,” writes the author. “The truth is that the modern GOP doesn’t want to hear from serious economists, whatever their politics. It prefers charlatans and cranks, who are its kind of people.” Krugman is a serious economist who detailed his intellectual focus and style in a 1993 essay, “How I Work.” He cites four rules that guide his research: listen to intelligent views; question the question; “dare to be silly”; and “simplify, simplify.” All serve him—and his readers—admirably.

Shrewd, witty, informed essays that are much needed in our anti-intellectual age.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-324-00501-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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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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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