Piquant, irksome, challenging, head-turning, maddening—a collection that successfully endeavors to get your blood pumping.

THE FUTURE WE WANT

RADICAL IDEAS FOR THE NEW CENTURY

Leftist considerations of a number of contemporary sociopolitical issues, edited by Nation senior editor Leonard and Jacobin founding editor Sunkara.

“From capital’s point of view,” writes Jacobin contributing editor Chris Maisano, “the social and political relations of production that come with [full employment] are untenable. Accepting such an economy would be tantamount to unilateral disarmament in the class struggle.” They may sound hoary, but these words have a stirring quality, a reminder that it is more fun to read the subversive broadsides of Vonnegut than the Grundrisse, but the latter’s analytical tools continue to find a trenchant foothold. “The ideas in this volume draw on a rich tradition of socialist proposals, long a force in American politics,” writes Leonard, and what the collection lacks in humor and self-skepticism, it makes up for not just in radical traditions, but also in original thinking on life beyond today’s ruinous oligarchy. Throughout the book, there is plenty to argue with—e.g., “for socialists, freedom is exclusively identified with the time we spend outside the sphere of material production,” a contention that denies the genuinely meaningful possibilities of work. But engagement—with the essays, with the world—is the point. The contributors explore the horizontal structure of local autonomy, exemplified by Occupy, Black Lives Matter, and Fight for $15; the organizations at work in the LGBT movement confronting the economic marginalization and violence that still plague this community (the time has come to move from “legal equality to lived equality”); and the plentiful instances when small is not necessarily better. The contributors address both sweeping concerns—echoing Thomas Piketty, particularly regarding the African-American population: “As bad as income inequality is in the United States, wealth inequality is even worse”—and specific issues, including the idea of the “work-life balance”: as Leonard rightly notes, “working-class women have always ‘done it all.’ ”

Piquant, irksome, challenging, head-turning, maddening—a collection that successfully endeavors to get your blood pumping.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9829-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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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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