Though the book may scare off almost as many prospective farmers as it encourages, the contributors argue their cases with...

LETTERS TO A YOUNG FARMER

ON FOOD, FARMING, AND OUR FUTURE

Longtime advocates of sustainable agriculture join with new voices for a comradely take on the challenging future of farming.

Edited by Stone Barns Center communications director Hodgkins (editor: The Field Guide to the Nature Conservancy, 2003, etc.), with illustrations by Wormell, the title is a riff on Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. The anthology features contributions by a host of professional and nonprofessional writers with close ties to, or an abiding affinity for, the land, and many of the pieces read rather like a special section of Mother Jones, with a characteristic political slant. The core of the book is an ode to agricultural landscapes and heritage that registers concerns about “feeding people, fostering community, sustaining livelihoods, restoring soil, sequestering carbon, protecting natural systems and reconnecting us to the land.” It is also shot through with cautionary tales about the folly of large-scale corporate farming, misguided government programs, the graying of the American farmer, and the precipitous decline in their numbers. But the warnings are balanced by plausible strategies for reforming our food system, practical advice, and optimism regarding farming's future in this noble, difficult field. If occasionally the optimism smacks of wishful thinking, its tenets still may be pivotal in dealing with global ecological change. Some writers rail against the use of chemicals and high-productivity farming that depletes the soil, while others recognize that us-versus-them rancor serves no one and that educated, demanding consumers as well as small-scale farmers can help the big boys see the light (and the rest of us eat more healthily). The themes of the collection make repetition inescapable, which can get tiresome, though many of the less didactic pieces are lovely—e.g., Mas Masumoto's lyrical letter to his farmer daughter. Other notable contributors include Barbara Kingsolver, Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry, Alice Waters, Temple Grandin, Michael Pollan, Rick Bayless, and Marion Nestle.

Though the book may scare off almost as many prospective farmers as it encourages, the contributors argue their cases with an effective polemical tenor.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61689-530-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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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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