STREET OF ETERNAL HAPPINESS

BIG CITY DREAMS ALONG A SHANGHAI ROAD

Probing human-interest stories that mine the heart of today’s China.

A study of vastly changing China from the perspective of one busy street in the center of Shanghai.

In his deliberative, observant journalistic style, Schmitz, the China correspondent for the public radio program Marketplace, chronicles his interviews and friendships with several of the shop owners on the street where he has lived for some years, plumbing their dreams and capitalist motivations. Once part of the French Concession, a haven for foreigners, lined by a luxuriant alley of London plane trees, the so-called Street of Eternal Happiness is a narrow two-way thoroughfare where “vehicular pandemonium” invites survival of the fittest on the road between masses of provincial migrants and sophisticated urbanites. All of the entrepreneurs Schmitz befriended have navigated “the system.” There’s CK, the young owner of “2nd Floor Your Sandwich” shop, who was a musician as a kid and now sells accordions to pay the bills; and Zhao Shiling, who runs the lively corner flower shop and has a mighty tale of woe and survival about leaving a “useless” husband back home in Shandong province and taking control of propelling her two sons to future prosperity. With each chapter, Schmitz delves deeply into the families’ endurance through the Cultural Revolution and famine and current drive to better themselves, sparked by the economic flourishing of the mid-1990s. Many of the author’s acquaintances were determined to strive and even get rich—e.g., the risky investments of Auntie Fu, the disputatious wife of the Shanghai-born pancake seller Uncle Feng. Moreover, Schmitz explores some of the current Chinese fads and phenomena, such as the underground lure of Christianity, the fastest-growing religion in China; the resurgence of Buddhism; the shocking demolition of neighboring Maggie Lane to make way for Shanghai’s world fair of 2010; and the baneful task of finding a suitable wife.

Probing human-interest stories that mine the heart of today’s China. 

Pub Date: May 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-553-41808-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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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. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“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. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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