A provocation for First Amendment absolutists, who may be surprised at all the hidden constraints that bind free expression.



Forget about shouting “fire” in a crowded theater—free speech, by this account, is anything but free.

As former Al Jazeera America staffer Moskowitz (How To Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood, 2017) writes, the doctrine of freedom of speech is constantly in opposition to other rights that often supersede it. For instance, if you wished to rename yourself Google as an expression of some political view or another, you would likely face down some very powerful corporate attorneys. On another score, argues the author, people like Charles Murray or Steve Bannon may widely be accounted undesirable and are therefore banned or disinvited from speaking on campuses, leading to conservative outcries about supposed censorship, but the national news such banning brings is disproportionate to the silencing of activists on the other side: “Their rights eclipse the rights of so many others in mainstream discourse: Dakota Access Pipeline protestors, or J20 defendants, or Black Lives Matter activists.” The freedom of speech of the alt-right demonstrators in Charlottesville, Moskowitz urges, clearly superseded other presumably superior rights, whipping up the violence that led to the murder of a counterprotester. Indeed, the argument continues, a scenario in which many of the alt-right participants were armed was sanctioned by police while, one imagines, a similar demonstration of armed Black Lives Matter marchers would not be. As A.J. Liebling noted, just as freedom of the press belongs to the person who owns the press, true freedom of speech belongs to those who wield political power. Although the argument is sometimes diffuse, Moskowitz does valuable work in connecting dots—noting, for example, that a professor censured at Evergreen College under supposed PC censorship who became a cause célèbre was the brother of the managing director of a firm owned by Peter Thiel, “a right-wing billionaire who has helped fund lawsuits to shut down the left-leaning media site Gawker."

A provocation for First Amendment absolutists, who may be surprised at all the hidden constraints that bind free expression.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-56858-864-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bold Type Books

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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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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