A vocational and sociological travelogue that readers will find to be time well spent.

MY JOB

REAL PEOPLE AT WORK AROUND THE WORLD

A collection of intimate interviews with people regarding the personal, familial, cultural, and geographic factors in their working lives.

Inspired by Studs Terkel’s Working (1974), which profiled ordinary American workers, editor Skees (God Among the Shakers, 1998) takes the concept global. Six of her 16 subjects live in the United States, including a slack-key guitarist in Honolulu, an architect in Cincinnati, and a recruiter/headhunter in Tampa, Florida. The rest are on other continents, including a coffee farmer in Nicaragua, a Masai warrior in Tanzania, a married couple running an eco-friendly factory in India, a rickshaw puller in Bangladesh, and a private equity manager in Hong Kong. Skees organizes the material into five sections (“Entrepreneurship,” “Industry and Transportation,” “Farming, Food, and Animals,” “Finance and Technology,” and “Music & Arts”), but each first-person account stands on its own, and they can be read in any order. A map, photograph, and editor’s note introduce each, and footnotes supplement the text. Skees nimbly maintains a consistent narrative flow, with none of the readability problems that are common in transcriptions. Whereas Terkel packed a great many workers into his book, Skees gives her subjects more space to muse, digress, and occasionally contradict themselves. The results are highly personal, often poignant, sometimes gritty, and routinely granular—perhaps more than some readers may expect, or even desire. The editor sets out to demonstrate that “our job = our self.” But such detailed portraits also reveal that formula’s commutative property—how personal preferences, chance, circumstances, and location shape each person’s job choice and performance. Skees is a nonprofit international development specialist, and doing work that contributes to the greater good emerges as a strong theme. As a result, this is a small, and perhaps skewed, sample of the world’s workforce (although a second volume is forthcoming), but it will inspire readers by showcasing workers across diverse industries, income levels, countries, and cultures expressing how they find meaning in their work beyond earning money.

A vocational and sociological travelogue that readers will find to be time well spent.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9962951-0-9

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Titletown Publishing, LLC

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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