For those who have donned those robes, Scheer’s book will be an affirmation. Those who have not may prefer more evenhanded...

THE PORNOGRAPHY OF POWER

HOW DEFENSE HAWKS HIJACKED 9/11 AND WEAKENED AMERICA

It’s all Nixon’s fault: If he hadn’t gone to China, we wouldn’t have Dubya.

Longtime political journalist Scheer (Playing President: My Close Encounters with Nixon, Carter, Bush I, Reagan, and Clinton—and How They Did Not Prepare Me for George W. Bush, 2006, etc.)—former editor of the long-defunct but much missed Ramparts magazine and proud owner of a thick FBI file—doesn’t quite formulate the problem that way. Yet, as he notes, having discussed the matter with Nixon himself, the Nixonian policy of détente in the waning days of the Cold War gave the neocons of today their raison d’être, a policy to revile and undermine. Those neocons, gathered around Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, “the hawkish Democrat in thrall to the Boeing Company,” took their Cold War very seriously and, by Scheer’s account, were at a loss to know what to do with themselves once the Berlin Wall fell. Many, such as Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, wrapped themselves in the flag of the so-called Project for a New American Century, one of whose fundamental tenets was overthrowing the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Before 9/11, writes Scheer, they labored quietly in various Bush administration sinecures, while Donald Rumsfeld talked about streamlining the Pentagon and reducing the military budget. Afterward, they had the run of things, led and unleashed by the president and vice president, and they went on an “uncontrollable” spending spree. Scheer allows for nonpecuniary motives, but he also observes that the foreign-policy machine was run by those, “like Dick Cheney, who made a huge bundle while claiming to be primarily interested in the security of their country.” Scheer mostly argues along Michael Moorish lines, stopping here and there to cite sources but generally running with an anti-administration jeremiad that seems about right—but also seems very much like preaching to the choir.

For those who have donned those robes, Scheer’s book will be an affirmation. Those who have not may prefer more evenhanded approaches that offer the same conclusion, such as Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier’s America Between the Wars (2008).

Pub Date: June 9, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-446-50527-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2008

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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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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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