Despite the best of motives, Nader shoots down his own case for convergence.

UNSTOPPABLE

THE EMERGING LEFT-RIGHT ALLIANCE TO DISMANTLE THE CORPORATE STATE

Activist Nader (The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future, 2012, etc.) sketches out places of “convergence” where liberals and conservatives can start working together for the public good.

Though increasingly rare, the author points to a number of instances when lawmakers worked in concert to support automobile airbags, prison reform, halt media concentration, and oppose taxpayer-funded stadiums and arenas. Sometimes they found success; often, they got bogged down in committee or watered down during the process. However, as Nader argues, we also must acknowledge the global corporate giants, whose “DNA commands them to control, undermine or eliminate any force, tradition, or institution that impedes their expansion of sales, profits, and executive compensation.” Certainly, there is endless ammunition to support this point, and Nader trots out one infuriating illustration after another—e.g., “the Department of Defense cannot or will not make an annual audit of it sprawling $527 billion yearly budget, not counting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan”—but corporate and governmental malfeasance are givens. The issue is how to make government heed “the supremacy of civic values to which commercial pursuits must adjust.” Nader lists reforms with which many lawmakers would agree, including breaking up too-big-to-fail banks, protecting children from commercialism and ending corporate personhood. However, he also delivers many examples where lawmakers are despairing, stymied by partisanship or in the corporate pocket. “Whether Democrats or Republicans are in control, corporations still receive the same wasteful or expanding assorted privileges,” while corporate welfare is ever more varied and bipartisan. Nader hopes that “convergence stimulates the depth of our basic humanity and sense of justice,” but it feels awfully distant from this vantage point. If the best we can do is “agree on a general policy or stance without having to also agree on the exact implications or use that would be made of a policy,” that sounds like planting seeds with no hope of rain.

Despite the best of motives, Nader shoots down his own case for convergence.

Pub Date: April 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-56858-454-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Nation Books

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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