by Todd Gitlin ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 7, 2002
Thousands and thousands of channels, but nothing on.
Instead of bemoaning that fact or celebrating it in an explosion of incomprehensible post-pastiche euphoria, Gitlin (Cultural Studies/NYU; The Twilight of Common Dreams, 1995, etc.) sets out to examine the structural role that media proliferation plays in the late-industrial world. Early on, Gitlin promises a grand summation and uses that lofty goal as a means of avoiding tiresome specificity. Unfortunately, the lack of specificity sometimes bleeds into a lack of rigor and relevance (at times one could even say coherence). Basically, there are three essays here, and the connections among them are not always clear. The first, and most interesting, is a witty riff on the media “torrent,” the paradoxical promises it makes, and the deeply embedded role it plays in a consumerist society. The second patchily examines the role of speed in modern society and ties it into the demand for more media: The faster we can process images and information, the richer our lives are (in both senses of the word). The third, more descriptive than analytical, identifies six ad hoc “styles of navigation” that supposedly describe the strategies that people adopt in their interactions with the media torrent. There’s a conclusion that attempts to tie all of this together by throwing around words like “culture” and “democracy,” but it feels tacked on. What one’s left with, then, is a strange combination of provocative thoughts (speed originally meant “to prosper” and only later took on its present meaning; the goal of the modern media is to efface the media’s mediating function by presenting things immediately) and serious navel-gazing (on more than one occasion one gets the sense that we’re reading cleaned-up notes that Gitlin took while watching sports on TV). This inconsistency would be less disappointing if the author weren’t fighting over his chosen piece of analytical turf with a heap of other, more systematically compelling writers, many of whom he happily cites.Diffuse.
Pub Date: March 7, 2002
Page Count: 288
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001
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by Paul Kalanithi ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 19, 2016
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
Page Count: 248
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 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.
“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
Page Count: 432
Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019
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