A daring work of investigative journalism and a well-reasoned argument for smarter drug policies.

NARCONOMICS

HOW TO RUN A DRUG CARTEL

In his first book, seasoned journalist Wainwright asks a radical question: what if we stopped looking at drug cartels as armies of faceless gangsters and instead analyzed them as innovative global businesses?

Like many journalists, Wainwright is critical of the war on drugs and its ineffective tactics. But during his tenure as a correspondent in Mexico City for the Economist, the author observed that high-level drug dealers are successful often because they understand effective management strategies. The full-body tattoos of the Salvadoran maras encourage loyalty among gang members, who are essentially lifelong employees. Mergers between Mexican gangs help expand international trade, while rival gangs spark competitive innovation. Wainwright suggests that the cocaine trade is eerily similar to the business approach of Wal-Mart, which holds a “monopsony” over its suppliers. The most astonishing chapter covers Internet commerce in the “deep web,” where pills and stolen credit card numbers are effortlessly exchanged. Using a bogus account, Wainwright discovered that anonymous participants employ a rating system to assess buyers and sellers, just like eBay, keeping customer service at high levels. “Even when I send a deliberately annoying message to a meth-pipe dealer called ‘vicious86,’ asking if he does custom engraving of his pipes for gift orders, he sends a nice reply regretting that he can’t but wishing me luck in finding someone who will,” writes the author. Wainwright has a good sense of humor, and he describes himself as a “not very brave business journalist,” yet his book is courageous on several levels. He not only ventured into brutal prisons and Andean coca fields, but he also approached illicit drugs from a thoughtful new direction. In order to combat the cartels, governments must work together and evaluate the cost-benefit of their social policies as well as the prices of firearms and flak jackets. In a way, Wainwright challenges everyone at once—the dealers, the drug czars, and the bystanders in between.

A daring work of investigative journalism and a well-reasoned argument for smarter drug policies.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61039-583-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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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