Refreshingly democratic—solid supplemental reading to the likes of Terkel and Alinsky, insistent on upholding the rights of...

DISSENT

THE HISTORY OF AN AMERICAN IDEA

A broad-ranging, evenhanded view of a tradition honed into an art form in America: the use of dissent as “a critique of governance.”

Americans are very good at complaining about everything under the sun. The stock market may be booming, jobs may be plentiful, and gas may be cheap, but still it’s not enough. As Young (History/Temple Univ. Dissent in America: Voices that Shaped a Nation, 2009, etc.) observes, throughout most of our history, the intent of dissenters has been honorable, an expression of “lofty ideals” and loyal opposition. However, often—and increasingly more often, it seems—dissenters are bent on forcing their narrow interests on the larger polity, sometimes in the hope of escaping such burdens as paying taxes, sometimes in the hope that their worldview will be declared the worldview. As Young chronicles, dissent often comes with unintended consequences. In a particularly pointed episode, he notes that slavery entered the American tradition as a means of dismantling a system of white indenture that bred seething resentment wherever it was practiced, with occasionally fatal results. Slaves, it was hoped, would not be so given to dissent, though that premise, too, would be proven false. Young has a knack for finding obscure but thoroughly revealing moments of history to illustrate his points; learning about Fries’ Rebellion and the Quasi-War with France is worth the price of admission alone, though his narrative offers much more besides. Of particular interest is the constant shift in American politics between the positions of dissenter and establishmentarian—not just as when, countering secession, West Virginia itself seceded to form a state, but also as when tea party activists get elected to become part of the government they despise, at which point much cognitive dissonance ensues.

Refreshingly democratic—solid supplemental reading to the likes of Terkel and Alinsky, insistent on upholding the rights of political minorities even when they’re wrong.

Pub Date: May 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4798-0665-2

Page Count: 640

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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