Western environmentalists will find a fellow traveler in these pages, but one with a political agenda that not all will...

PALESTINIAN WALKS

NOTES ON A VANISHING LANDSCAPE

An often satisfying but sometimes off-putting blend of history, natural history and political pamphleteering from a Palestinian activist, attorney and writer.

“When I began hill walking in Palestine a quarter of a century ago,” writes Shehadeh (Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine, 2002, etc.), “I was not aware that I was traveling through a vanishing landscape.” Hills are, of course, good places from which to fire down on passersby below, which has been cause enough for Israel to establish fortifications and settlements on them, displacing Palestinians and introducing new Israeli townships into the West Bank. Shehadeh’s book takes the form of six alternately meditative and combative walks from 1978 to 2006, walks that limn the geography of a region that has long seen its share of ambulatory pilgrims. The author rightly objects to the carving up and walling of the hills from a conservationist’s point of view, and he could be writing of coastal California when he laments the damage caused by the development of yuppie enclaves full of IT workers. He has a fine eye for the details of just what is being damaged: the variegated, stony earth and its fountains; cedar forests; hyacinths, crocuses and canyons; the old geography of kin and neighbor; ancient waters such as the Dead Sea, which is becoming deader by the year. One wonders, however, whether the same sort of damage would not be occurring in an independent Palestine, with its exploding population and aspirations to prosperity, all of which tend to gnaw away at beautiful spots. It does not help his argument that Shehadeh rhetorically demonizes the Israeli state and its presumed master plan for the region with pat formulas, though the searching conversation he has with an Israeli settler at the end of the book—a conversation mediated by opiated hashish—suggests that civil discourse is possible and that more of it would go a long way toward saving the hill country.

Western environmentalists will find a fellow traveler in these pages, but one with a political agenda that not all will accept.

Pub Date: June 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4165-6966-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2008

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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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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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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