THE SHIELD OF ACHILLES

WAR, PEACE, AND THE COURSE OF HISTORY

Few historical studies are as daring and engaging as this. Highly recommended for students of foreign policy, history, and...

A brilliant, disquieting essay on geopolitics, warfare, and the future of the state.

War brings peace for only a short time, argues Bobbitt (Constitutional Law/Univ. of Texas). More commonly, war brings sweeping changes in the legal order of states and societies; without it, apparently, there can be no progress, which is one reason warfare is a constant in human history. A case in point for the author is the so-called Long War that raged around the world from 1914 to 1990. This epochal conflict produced the emergent “market-state,” just as the so-called Long Nineteenth Century produced the modern nation-state. Of this market-state Bobbitt writes rather vaguely—necessarily, given that no such government now exists and that the world’s fortunes can turn in many possible directions (many of them terribly bad) over the next few years. Clearly, he argues, the nation-state is outmoded on several fronts. The contemporary world, for instance, is more and more inclined to insist that states respect the human rights of their citizens no matter what their internal laws, thus legitimizing interventions in places such as Afghanistan or Bosnia and weakening the old idea of the sovereign polity that can do just about whatever it wishes within its territorial borders. Advances in finance and communications have also left the nation-state behind: “There is a grotesque disparity,” Bobbitt writes, “between the rapid movement of international capital and the ponderous and territorially circumscribed responses of the nation-state, as clumsy as a bear chained to a stake, trying to chase a shifting beam of light.” How a government primarily concerned with providing services and dominating the market will be more responsive to extra-mercantile issues remains to be seen, but throughout this hugely ambitious (and huge) treatise, Bobbitt poses scenarios that for ardent democrats will range from the scarcely comforting to the bleak, with rays of hope in very short supply.

Few historical studies are as daring and engaging as this. Highly recommended for students of foreign policy, history, and global trends.

Pub Date: May 20, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-41292-1

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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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

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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