Cultural historian Robinson (Humanities/Stanford; Freud and His Critics, not reviewed, etc.) examines provocatively a century’s worth of authors whose homosexuality is a central subject of their autobiographical narratives. Covering 14 British, American, and French writers, most of them professional men of letters, Robinson focuses with sometimes claustrophobic reductiveness on “what they did in bed, what they wanted to do, what they didn—t want to do.” The lives here and the way their authors represented them are remarkably various: The posthumous memoirs of 19th-century belletrist John Addington Symonds and Edwardian don G. Lowes Dickinson evidence lots of flowery Greek-inspired idealism but precious little sexual success in a society that was not so much repressive as willfully oblivious. In 1951 Stephen Spender disparaged his gay past through “elaborate avoidances,” while Christopher Isherwood’s post-Stonewall Christopher and His Kind recreated much of the same milieu without Spender’s backpedaling. J.R. Ackerley found lasting (nonsexual) love only with his dog; the flamboyantly effeminate Quentin Crisp flatly disdained sex. The French indulged in philosophical contortions: AndrÇ Gide wrote that his physical desires had nothing to do with emotion; Jean Genet claimed that his homosexuality was, like his criminal career, a deliberate choice to remove himself from conventional society; Julian Green couldn—t reconcile his sexuality with his Roman Catholic faith. The diarists Jeb Anderson and Donald Vining both endured the post-WWII crackdown on gay life in America, the former miserably and the latter with inexplicable perkiness. Memoirs by Andrew Tobias, Martin Duberman, and Paul Monette all center on emergence from the closet. In general, Robinson writes with crisp elegance, but he tends to dive for his subjects” genitals with unseemly relish. And though he is often shrewd in assessing literary strategies as psychological evasions, he just as often ends up berating writers unfairly for lack of candor, self-knowledge, or 1990s political savvy. Nevertheless, Robinson covers an impressive amount of previously unsurveyed ground. (15 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-226-72180-9

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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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. 29, 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. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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