A nicely optimistic look at a matter that usually brings out the darkest thoughts among prognosticators—if a touch...

ABUNDANCE

THE FUTURE IS BETTER THAN YOU THINK

Forget Club of Rome gloom and doom. If the future isn’t necessarily bright enough for shades, then, write high-tech pioneer Diamandis and science journalist Kotler (A Small Furry Prayer: Dog Rescue and the Meaning of Life, 2010, etc.), things are going to work out just fine.

The title speaks volumes. A tenet of capitalism is that resources are scarce, which justifies our scramble to get what we can. Yet, write the authors, “when seen through the lens of technology, few resources are truly scarce, they’re mainly inaccessible.” So drinking water is scarce and getting scarcer? There’s a big ocean out there; what remains to be done is to develop some method to desalinate the ocean’s water “in the same way that electrolysis easily transformed bauxite into aluminum.” Of course, there is also a major shortage of fossil fuels—but no shortage of sunlight, and in fact more than 5,000 times as much solar power available as we could possibly use in our wildest dreams. It will bring some readers up short to contemplate the abundance that Diamandis and Kotler project in the face of the stark reality that there may well be 10 billion humans on the planet by the year 2050, but that doesn’t daunt the authors much, given the human talent for engineering our way out of trouble. Engineering is a major part of their program, as “the purview of backyard tinkerers has extended far beyond custom cars and homebrew computers, and now reaches into once esoteric fields like genetics and robotics.” What about the health-care crisis? Well, nothing a few generations of robotic surgeons can’t help, if not cure. Food crisis? Just 150 vertical-farm skyscrapers could feed all of New York City. And so on, to the point that there seems to be no problem that the authors find insurmountable, or even especially daunting.

A nicely optimistic look at a matter that usually brings out the darkest thoughts among prognosticators—if a touch starry-eyed, at least a dream worth nurturing.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-1421-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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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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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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