Well reasoned and argued, if unlikely to influence the people who could most stand to read it.



Elect a president, get a war.

By the lights of legal scholar Irons (Political Science/Univ. of California, San Diego; A People’s History of the Supreme Court, 1999, etc.), the U.S. has gone to war with a proper, constitutionally watertight declaration five times in its history as against “scores of undeclared wars and military incursions into other nations . . . in places as close as Mexico and as remote as Afghanistan.” The last formal declaration occurred on December 7, 1941, the dawn of the superimperial age of American empire; in the last war, which George W. Bush launched against Iraq, he didn’t bother working the Congress to do that job, as the Constitution demands, but instead announced what he intended and got a green-light resolution, much as his father had done in 1991. Congress gave him what he wanted, Irons asserts, because that’s what Congress does these days; no one wants to make a fuss about constitutional niceties, which is why the Patriot Act sailed through so easily. Incidental to his larger purpose, Irons imagines a scenario in which antiwar protestors are ipso facto declared guilty of domestic terrorism, a prospect that he believes true to “the government’s penchant for stifling legitimate criticism during wartime”; the Supreme Court’s behavior in recent years, he suggests, gives little reason to think that it couldn’t happen. The presidential fiat has long precedent, Irons writes, perhaps most powerfully in Abraham Lincoln’s wartime suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, which in turn afforded Franklin Roosevelt’s government legal authority to round up Japanese American citizens in that last declared war. Irons strikes notes of gloom throughout what is a thought-provoking treatise, observing that John Kerry seems not to have questioned the idea that a president can wing it when it comes to war, and lamenting the outcome of the last election as proof that the American people want their thinking done for them by somebody else—and that they’re happy with the unconstitutional application of American power.

Well reasoned and argued, if unlikely to influence the people who could most stand to read it.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2005

ISBN: 0-8050-7593-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2005

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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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