A BOOK OF MIGRATIONS

SOME PASSAGES IN IRELAND

Solnit (Savage Dreams, not reviewed, etc.) impressively plaits together the landscape, identity politics, and literature of Ireland in this exquisite piece of travel writing. When her uncle's research led to Californian Solnit receiving an Irish passport—the purple document with its embossed harp speaking to her of exile, colonization, emigration, heritage—she hoofed it over to the Emerald Isle. There she just followed her whims, and the result is this, ``a book of essays sequenced and shaped by my journey.'' Solnit is a shrewd and canny observer of everyday life, a student who likes to know the background, an adept at the fine art of seeing, then excavating and deciphering what she sees with a crackingly smart leftist take. She places the reader in unfamiliar positions from which to view, say, Irish literature (``a sensibility more cognizant of the arbitrariness of literary form and all the opportunities of subverting it''), or tourism (``It is the perfect industry for the information age: one of leisure, consumption, displacement, simulation''). Swift and Eliot and Heaney make appearances, as does the island's last patch of true forest; Solnit gabs with a hermitess, with nomads, with pub-goers; she gets on her feet and walks to places whose names are like incantations: Dawnuknockane, Ballydehob, the coast of Clare, the Cliffs of Moher. Everywhere there is movement—from her own love of travel, of slipping out of ``a settled destiny in pursuit of stranger fates,'' to the waves of invasion and emigration that have pressed themselves into the national mythology. Her writing can be nimble, as when she gives her political slant on an event or conjures the particular taste of a place; it can have the abstracted quality of being lost deep in thought; and rarely, it can be labored when she overconsiders some character's makeup, some landscape's disposition. Truly exceptional, a paradise for readers of travel literature.

Pub Date: July 1, 1997

ISBN: 1-85984-855-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Verso

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1997

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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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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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