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THE POWER OF GOLD

THE HISTORY OF AN OBSESSION

A mine of information for lovers of bezants, florins, dinars and ducats—and for those who wonder how a shiny metal came to...

A glittering history of the prominence of gold in the world economy and the human imagination.

Bernstein (Against the Odds, 1996, etc.) returns with this engaging tale of golden dreams and grand delusions. After a brief but wry prologue (“we yearn for gold and yawn at steel”) the author whisks us back to Biblical times and there begins his chronological tour of mines and mints, of alchemy and macroeconomics. People, he reveals, used gold for adornment long before they used it for money (the first gold coins were fashioned around 700 B.C.), and it was the legendary Croesus who transformed precious metals into “the ultimate standards of wealth and money.” With a truly masterful grasp of economic history, Bernstein guides us through culture after culture, showing how the passion for gold both animated and destroyed. Among the most affecting sections is his account of Pizarro’s destruction of the Inca. Bernstein offers, as well, the stories of Marco Polo and Kublai Khan (“Asia turned out to be a sponge for gold and silver”); he rehearses the little-known career of Sir Isaac Newton as Warden of the Mint (and asserts that Newton’s failed career reveals how “[e]conomics is evidently a lot more difficult than physics”). He re-tells the stories of the California and Klondike gold rushes (the latter, he claims, was “relatively unimportant in the long history of gold”). Most chilling are his repeated observations that adherence to the gold standard is part of the “grand illusion of gold”—that it is a serious error to fail to “comprehend the difference between useless metal and real wealth.” The chapters dealing with modern and contemporary economic history are understandably more complicated and demanding.

A mine of information for lovers of bezants, florins, dinars and ducats—and for those who wonder how a shiny metal came to decorate, then dominate, the world.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2000

ISBN: 0-471-25210-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Wiley

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2000

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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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