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SHAME

HOW AMERICA’S PAST SINS HAVE POLARIZED OUR COUNTRY

Liberals will challenge Steele’s conclusions, but the sincerity of his convictions seems beyond question.

A conservative analysis of political polarization and race relations in America, more thoughtful and less vitriolic than most volleys from either side.

As the son of a mixed-race marriage, Hoover Institution senior fellow Steele (A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win, 2007, etc.), who won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Content of Our Character (1991), built his moral foundation on the civil rights activism and idealism of his parents. In college, he considered himself “on the borderline between liberalism and radicalism.” But as he remained true to what he considered the country’s ideals and never succumbed to the anti-American hatred of an evil empire, he found that his notions of freedom and fairness fit better within the conservative camp, which rejected affirmative action and other signs of “paternalism…far more maddening and smothering than anything I had known in full-out segregation.” Steele claims that the country must overcome the sins, shames and apologies of the past if it is to move forward, black Americans in particular. Personal experience humanizes his political progression, from his quitting the high school swimming team after a racial exclusion to his trips to Algiers, where he encountered Black Panthers he considered “thugs” and to an Africa that had reaped the charitable benefits of “American exceptionalism.” The author maintains that the liberal mainstream has been willing to compromise core values for the sake of “the Good” and for the poetic truths that he believes are illusions of innocence in comparison with the literal truth favored by conservatives. “[T]his is a ‘war’ between two foes—today’s political Right and Left—that are almost as fundamentally antithetical and irreconcilable as the Soviet Union and the United States once were,” he writes in a bit of overreach that doesn’t characterize the tone of most of the book.

Liberals will challenge Steele’s conclusions, but the sincerity of his convictions seems beyond question.

Pub Date: March 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-465-06697-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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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

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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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