An uneven treatment of a topic that merits further study.

BLOOD PROFITS

HOW AMERICAN CONSUMERS UNWITTINGLY FUND TERRORISTS

An alarming, and often alarmist, survey of how spending by consumers might support terrorist organizations and organized crime enterprises, especially drug cartels.

Neumann, the president of Asymmetrica, a consultant group that advises governments and corporations about combating illicit trade, refers to Venezuela, where she was born, to demonstrate how a leftist government takeover can become just as easily mired in corruption as a rightist one. Throughout the book, the author relies on examples from her personal life, her work as a consultant, research studies (from the United Nations and other sources), and her deeply felt ideology. She warns that terrorist groups and drug cartels have learned to join forces to assist each other in their lethal activities, and such an unholy partnership sometimes depends on the corruption of government officials. However, a good portion of the financing for global criminal enterprises arises from individual consumers who purchase black market drugs and cigarettes and knockoff clothing and handbags produced by slave labor. Further funding comes from gambling on sporting events that might be fixed in advance as well as the sex trade, in which the money often flows to dangerous groups around the world. Neumann provides plenty of examples, some of them clearly delineated but others murky because her evidence is speculative. The author consistently mentions money laundering as a major part of corrupt cultures, but she doesn’t explain its mechanisms and processes until the last third of the book. She is persuasive in her contention that honest citizens unwittingly contribute to the budgets of criminal enterprises, but her alarmist tone might cause some readers to wonder whether Neumann is overstating the seriousness of the threat to global security. Furthermore, the needless repetition of her message and the hard-to-follow organization of the chapters make much of the narrative a slog.

An uneven treatment of a topic that merits further study.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-08935-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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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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