GENERATION FRIENDS

AN INSIDE LOOK AT THE SHOW THAT DEFINED A TELEVISION ERA

On its 25th anniversary, the show’s die-hard fans will love Austerlitz’s detailed, discerning, and sumptuous history.

The story of “one of the most beloved series on television.”

Austerlitz (Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy With the Rolling Stones at Altamont, 2014, etc.) returns to a subject he’s quite adept at analyzing, the TV sitcom, which he comprehensively covered in his 2014 book, Sitcom. With 236 episodes, Friends ran from 1994 to 2004, garnering one Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series. The author conducted numerous interviews with writers, directors, crew members, and actors to tell this story of a show in which “comic minimalism was conjoined to a soap-opera maximalism.” Austerlitz begins with the writers who created it, Marta Kauffman and David Crane, who were there to the end. Their initial pitch to the executives was a show like Cheers but set in a coffee shop, Central Perk. After it received the go-ahead, the casting director’s initial list had African American and Asian American actors, but the producers went with an all-white cast of three men and three women. David Schwimmer’s Ross was selected right away, with Matthew Perry’s Chandler last. James Burrows, of Taxi and Cheers fame, directed. NBC execs were worried it wouldn’t reach a wide enough audience, but they eventually slotted it for Thursdays before Seinfeld. Austerlitz chronicles how Friends evolved: adding additional sets, fine-tuning Courteney Cox’s Monica, and the key decision to include the characters’ past so “stories were often retold instead of depicted.” The lack of diversity was brought up when the cast appeared on Oprah. Ross’ ex-wife was a lesbian, and there was “The One With the Lesbian Wedding,” while other episodes added black and Asian American actors; but Austerlitz calls the show with Chandler’s transgender father (played by Kathleen Turner) “inept.” Friends weathered a hostile work environment lawsuit and Perry’s drug-and-alcohol addiction, and guest actors were common, from Elliott Gould and Charlton Heston to Julia Roberts and George Clooney, helping “provide a jolt to the ratings.”

On its 25th anniversary, the show’s die-hard fans will love Austerlitz’s detailed, discerning, and sumptuous history.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4335-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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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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