Thoughtfully crafted musings about life and death.

THE DEPOSITIONS

NEW AND SELECTED ESSAYS ON BEING AND CEASING TO BE

A funeral director and writer reflects on his life and profession.

“So I’m over at the Hortons’ with my stretcher and minivan and my able apprentice…because they found old George, the cemetery sexton, dead in his bed.” This is vintage Lynch (Whence and Whither: On Lives and Living, 2019, etc.). A published poet of “internationally unheard of poems,” the author is witty and wise, wry and humorous. If he gets a tad mawkish at times, so be it. He’s been the only mortician in a small Michigan town for more than four decades, and he respects his profession and the people he buries and their kin. It’s an honorable trade, and he’s been writing engagingly about it for years. This collection contains 18 pieces from a few of his books as well as a handful of new essays. Lynch writes about embalming, cremating, and burying the old, young children, babies, a beloved cousin in Ireland, his father, two dogs, and the remains of a friend, which he scattered in a Scottish river. The author saw his first dead body with his undertaker father when he was a young boy. In his foreword, Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball writes that reading Lynch is “to suddenly be able to see what it’s like to be comfortable with mortality. To respect it but not fear it. To see both the absurdity and beauty of death, sometimes simultaneously.” In addition to chronicling his tasks as an undertaker, Lynch writes about his fluctuating faith, family, two wives, and friends in Ireland, where he often goes to live in an inherited cottage in West Clare. He shares his kooky business plan for a Golfatorium and his general disdain for Jessica Mitford’s “muckraking” The American Way of Death. In one of his poems, he writes, “Like politics, all funerals are local.”

Thoughtfully crafted musings about life and death.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-324-00397-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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