Some might disagree with the authors’ disparagement of populism and idealism toward two-party politics, but they are...

A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE SAYING

THE NEW CONSPIRACISM AND THE ASSAULT ON DEMOCRACY

An analysis of how the nature of conspiracy charges and the possibility of confirming and refuting them have changed so radically in the Trump era.

Muirhead (Democracy and Politics/Dartmouth Coll.; The Promise of Party in a Polarized Age, 2014, etc.) and Rosenblum (Ethics in Politics and Government/Harvard Univ.; Good Neighbors: The Democracy of Everyday Life in America, 2016, etc.) note that the Declaration of Independence was a call for the Colonies to unite in resistance against a conspiracy of British subjugation and that Americans have continued to feed on conspiracy theories since the nation’s founding. Occasionally, those theories have even proven true, confirmed by a process that resembles detective work as well as journalistic enterprise. One of the things that distinguishes “the new conspiracism” is that it is “conspiracy without theory. It sheds explanation, and it sheds political theory.” These ever present conspiracies, often launched or spread by the current president, are more like viral rumors on how everything and everyone—Democrats, the press, the “deep state,” the FBI, the special prosecutor—are conspiring to thwart the will of the people and undercut the authority of the elected official. The authors’ closing warning quotes Trump: “There’s something going on that’s really, really bad. And we better get smart, and we better get tough, or we’re not going to have much of a country left.” Where they disagree is on the problem and the solution. So much of the new conspiracism is “sheer absurdity” and an “assault on reality.” They see the strength of the two-party system as essential to that process. When the president is a member of one party in name only and consistently demonizes what is usually considered the loyal opposition, we are left with a “malignant normality.”

Some might disagree with the authors’ disparagement of populism and idealism toward two-party politics, but they are convincing in their argument that there is something different afoot in the world of conspiracy and that danger lies ahead if we don’t confront it with truth and action.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-691-18883-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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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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