by P.J. O’Rourke ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 15, 2020
Exaggeration and absurdity are useful tools of humor but not when deployed with a bludgeon.
The political satirist frets about America’s state of “angry perplexity,” but he would be well advised to heed his own advice: Calm down.
In his latest broadside, O’Rourke decries the excesses of left and right with (almost) equal disdain. At 72, he remains a libertarian conservative, and he has no use for the mindless populism or rabid partisanship that has Americans baring their fangs at each other. The author fairly wonders when—or if—America will “emerge from its grievous health crisis, lock-down isolation, economic collapse, and material depravation with a newly calm, pragmatic, and reasonable attitude toward our political system.” Even as he sounds the death knell for classical liberalism—free enterprise, the rule of law, civil liberties, free speech, etc.—O’Rourke also hopes, with scant confidence, that we will dispense with our hysterias in favor of competence and a civil tongue. He proceeds to skewer America’s cultural and political ills in broad, superficial detail while championing a form of “extreme moderation” as the only means of addressing them. Occasionally, as the voice of common sense, he does this with sobriety; the most reasonable part of the book is the “Pre-Preface,” written on June 8, 2020. “[George Floyd] was accused of spending twenty dollars in the form of a banknote that had no actual value,” he writes. “The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are currently spending billions of dollars in the form of banknotes that have no actual value.” More often, O’Rourke employs sweeping generalizations, over-the-top screeds, unconvincing self-deprecation, and, above all, gale-force sarcasm. His meld of serious comment and attempted humor is an unhappy marriage, and even longtime O’Rourke devotees may not be sure where one ends and the other begins. The author has become a more jocular, less verbose version of William F. Buckley.Exaggeration and absurdity are useful tools of humor but not when deployed with a bludgeon.
Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020
Page Count: 320
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online: June 30, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020
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by Thomas Sowell ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 19, 2023
For those satisfied with blame-the-victim tidbits of received wisdom.
The noted conservative economist delivers arguments both fiscal and political against social justice initiatives such as welfare and a federal minimum wage.
A Black scholar who has lived through many civil rights struggles, Sowell is also a follower of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who insisted that free market solutions are available for every social problem. This short book begins with what amounts to an impatient declaration that life isn’t fair. Some nations are wealthy because of geographical advantages, and some people are wealthy because they’re smarter than others. “Some social justice advocates may implicitly assume that various groups have similar developed capabilities, so that different outcomes appear puzzling,” he writes. In doing so, he argues, they fail to distinguish between equal opportunity and equal capability. Sowell is dismissive of claims that Black Americans and other minorities are systematically denied a level playing field: Put non-white kids in charter schools, he urges, and presto, their math scores will zoom northward as compared to those in public schools. “These are huge disparities within the same groups, so that neither race nor racism can account for these huge differences,” he writes, clearly at pains to distance himself from the faintest suggestion that race has anything to do with success or failure in America. At the same time, he isn’t exactly comfortable with the idea that economic inequalities exist, and he tries to finesse definitions to suit his convictions: “The terms ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ are misleading in another and more fundamental sense. These terms apply to people’s stock of wealth, not their flows of income.” As for crime? Give criminals more rights, he asserts, as with Miranda v. Arizona, and crime rates go up—an assertion that overlooks numerous other variables but fits Sowell’s ideological slant.For those satisfied with blame-the-victim tidbits of received wisdom.
Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2023
Page Count: 224
Publisher: Basic Books
Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2023
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by Paul Kalanithi ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 19, 2016
A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...
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Best Books Of 2016
New York Times Bestseller
Pulitzer Prize Finalist
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
Page Count: 248
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015
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