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A TWILIGHT STRUGGLE

AMERICAN POWER AND NICARAGUA, 1977-1990

A comprehensive history of recent Nicaraguan-American relations, written by a man who helped shape that ``bloody and conflict-ridden embrace.'' Kagan, a policy advisor in the Reagan administration, is refreshingly self-critical; ``The ambivalent soul of America has consistently sought the fruits of hegemony in this hemisphere but just as consistently balked at the moral costs of exercising it.'' But he is not overly apologetic for the Reagan administration's missteps, which came out of a domino-theory policy of armed confrontation with the avowedly Marxist Sandinista regime in the form of covert action, or what officials called ``the lowball option.'' Thanks to the Iran-contra scandal that arose from the use of that option, Kagan concedes, even Republican stalwarts had to recognize that the Reagan doctrine of containment was a failure. Kagan is a little short on addressing the notorious atrocities committed by the contras, but he openly admits their value in destablizing the Sandinista government. He is long on describing the manifold twists of superpower negotiation that kept Nicaragua on the front burner for so many years, for instance the 1987 US- Soviet summit in which Reagan suggested to Gorbachev that the Soviet Union end aid to Nicaragua as a gesture of goodwill, then went on to announce, incorrectly, that Gorbachev had agreed to a unilaterial Soviet withdrawal of military aid—thus undoing much effort to arrive at a diplomatic solution. Kagan credits Costa Rican president Oscar Arias with helping break the impasses in US- Soviet-Nicaraguan relations, which eventually led to a Bush-era restoration of full diplomatic exchange and the establishment of free elections. Leftist critics of American policy will fault some of Kagan's interpretations. Still, this is a welcome and fluent effort to ``address that most contentious of American foreign policies not as an occasion for polemic but as a serious subject of historical investigation.''

Pub Date: March 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-02-874057-2

Page Count: 912

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1995

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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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

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