An admirable effort to illuminate a hidden world that will be most useful to fellow researchers in the social sciences.

LE BOOGIE WOOGIE

INSIDE AN AFTER-HOURS CLUB

Sociological research shines a light on a nightlife culture in which sex and drugs flourish openly.

Williams (Sociology/New School for Social Research; Teenage Suicide Notes: An Ethnography of Self-Harm, 2017, etc.) bridges the ivory tower and the urban subculture, employing ethnographic research to illuminate a world rarely glimpsed outside pulp fiction and film noir. The after-hours club of the title flourished in 1980s and ’90s Harlem, before rampant gentrification had transformed the neighborhood and cultural attitudes. “I live in two worlds, the world of the academy by day and the life of the street by night,” writes the author, “and I felt I had to reconcile them if I was ever to be the writer—the sociologist—I wanted to be.” In this book, he also has to reconcile then and now, because most of his field work was conducted two or three decades ago, before the internet, smartphones, and changing laws and attitudes had transformed the world. His research took place largely in loud and dark clubs, with subjects drunk or high on cocaine, making it tough to tell what they were saying or whom he could trust. He couldn’t tape or take detailed notes at the time, so much of what he details had to be reconstructed from memory. What he unveils is a subculture with its own codes and language, with moral values at odds with society at large, where drug use isn’t a sickness, addiction, or character defect but rather an “example of present-day resistance to conservative values and the desire of human beings to seek pleasurable ways of being regardless of risk.” Williams explores the cultural currency of cocaine, the commodification of sex by women who do not feel that they are being exploited, and the attitude of cool that pervades the after-hours atmosphere. He admits to voyeurism and some conflicted attitudes about the behavior he reports.

An admirable effort to illuminate a hidden world that will be most useful to fellow researchers in the social sciences.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-231-17789-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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