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THE PRESIDENT OF GOOD AND EVIL

THE ETHICS OF GEORGE W. BUSH

High-concept ammunition for the anti-Bush crowd as the 2004 race heats up.

If George W. Bush fell down in a forest, would he know it?

Singer (Pushing Time Away, 2003, etc.) is an ethicist, not an epistemologist, and such a question is of less interest to him than, say, What is the best Occam’s-razor explanation for Bush’s apparent inability to tell the truth? Dubya is certainly no philosopher, writes Singer. He is, however, “not only America’s president, but also its most prominent moralist,” fond of viewing the world in dualistic terms such as good vs. evil. In fact, between the time Bush took office and June 2003, by Singer’s count, he made public reference to evil in no fewer than 319 speeches, and as a substantive rather than adjective (“914 noun uses as against 182 adjectival uses”). But does Bush really understand evil except as a fundamentalist trope? Does he understand the implications of much of anything? The unreflective Bush has, after all, talked himself into many a corner. Singer closely examines several such instances, such as Bush’s averring that our money is our money (a rationale for cutting taxes) while rejecting the Nozickian minimalist-state view, yielding a deception that Singer states thus: “It’s your money, but the government can and should take your money to meet needs or priorities.” (Unless you’re rich, in which case it’s your money, period.) Blurring the distinction between morals and ethics, Singer occasionally writes his way into corners of his own: Is Bush’s failure to create jobs really an ethical matter? Is it his obligation to do so at all? Still, readers will delight in pondering a few textbook-like chestnuts (does war equal murder?) while basking in Singer’s breezy disdain for the president, whose “religious beliefs are no more based on critically examined evidence than are the religious beliefs of Osama bin Laden.” Assuming, that is, that bin Laden has any truly felt religious beliefs, and that religion has ever required the examination of evidence.

High-concept ammunition for the anti-Bush crowd as the 2004 race heats up.

Pub Date: March 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-525-94813-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2004

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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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GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

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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