Surprisingly optimistic, realistic, and persuasive.



Positive news on climate change from an expert.

The degradation is well underway, and matters will get worse before they get better. However, according to this enthusiastic account by engineer and MacArthur fellow Griffith, real change is possible with today’s scientific know-how and an energetic effort. Overcoming the problem of global climate change—essentially by reducing carbon-dioxide emissions to zero—requires a tricky combination of politics and technology. Largely avoiding politics, Griffith emphasizes technology. His solution is to electrify everything. “America can reduce its energy use by more than half by introducing no other efficiency measures other than electrification,” he writes. This climate-friendly future will contain the usual familiar objects in our lives, affecting cars, homes, offices, appliances, etc., but miraculous breakthroughs (fusion power, sucking carbon from the atmosphere) won’t be necessary. Griffith warns that America is stuck in the 1970s mindset of conservation with the mantra “Reduce! Reuse! Recycle.” This has produced great improvements in gas mileage and home insulation and more efficient appliances, but you can’t “efficiency” your way to zero. In a torrent of technical explanation, graphs, and tables, Griffith shows how solar and wind power are already cheaper despite massive subsidies and tax breaks that support fossil fuel companies. He proposes that the government subsidize upfront costs of switching—about $40,000 per household—by guaranteeing low-interest “climate loans.” As he notes, “if US policymakers can offer [these loans] at the right rate, the transition to clean energy will start saving us money today.” To critics proclaiming that the Green New Deal would be a budget-busting government handout, he points out that the U.S. has launched similar programs in the past. For example, it began subsidizing long-term home mortgages in 1933, and predictions of a massive loss of taxpayer money never happened. Indeed, writes Griffith, the result will be prosperity: more jobs and less poverty, with no sacrifice of our current lifestyle.

Surprisingly optimistic, realistic, and persuasive.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-262-04623-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: MIT Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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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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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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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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