LISTEN, LIBERAL

OR, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE PARTY OF THE PEOPLE?

A hard-hitting analysis that may leave readers confused by the author’s ambivalent, punches-pulling conclusion.

How the party of the working class has switched its focus to well-heeled professionals, more concerned with social issues than economic inequality.

“This is a book about the failure of the Democratic Party,” writes political analyst and Baffler founding editor Frank (Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right, 2011). “What ails the Democrats?” he asks. “So bravely forthright on cultural issues, their leaders fold when confronted with matters of basic economic democracy.” Where David Halberstam once showed how reliance on “the best and the brightest” resulted in wrongheaded decisions on Vietnam, Frank builds a similar case for economic policy, as Ivy League presidents (Bill Clinton, Barack Obama) have surrounded themselves with Ivy League advisers whose perspectives aren’t those of what was once the blue-collar base of the Democratic Party: “Thus did the Party of the People turn the government over to Wall Street in the years after Wall Street had done such lasting damage to…well, the People.” Frank is particularly acidic on the Clinton presidency, calling his cabinet “a kind of yuppie Woodstock, a gathering of the highly credentialed tribes,” and claiming, “what he did as president was far outside the reach of even the most diabolical Republican.” In the author’s estimation, the hope of the Obama administration turned hopeless. Since Frank is far from a lone voice in the wilderness in his perspective, you’d think he might see allies in the Occupy movement and the Bernie Sanders campaign, but he barely acknowledges the former and makes no mention of the latter, making it seem as if more recent developments lie outside his analysis. Rather than insisting on radical reform from the left or even a third party alternative, he seems to feel that Hillary Clinton is inevitable: “I myself might vote for her,” because it would be a “terrible thing” if any of the Republicans became president.

A hard-hitting analysis that may leave readers confused by the author’s ambivalent, punches-pulling conclusion.

Pub Date: March 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62779-539-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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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

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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