CROSSINGS

A WHITE MAN'S JOURNEY INTO BLACK AMERICA

Magisterial investigation of black America by a white reporter for The Washington Post; portions have appeared in Life magazine and the Washington Post Sunday Magazine. The seed for this book was planted when Harrington, who's married to a black woman and has two mixed-race children, overheard a racist joke while sitting in his dentist's chair. Instantly, ``I was touched and humbled, converted...I knew in my heart that I didn't know anything about race.'' To educate himself, he undertook a 25,000-mile voyage around the country, talking and listening to hundreds of blacks, from sharecroppers and cops to college professors and writers. Some of the visits were personal: Harrington dropped by his wife's family farm, where he heard his father-in-law's memories of segregation; later, he visited two black acquaintances from his college days, both former radicals. Mostly, though, Harrington met strangers. A few were celebrities: Ice-T, who urged young blacks to work within the system; a diffident Spike Lee; the ``seriously giddy'' Dori Sanders, author of Clover; Ishmael Reed; James McPherson, who saluted ``decents'' of all races. The unknowns ranged from a 96-year-old in Arkansas who remembered lynchings to gang members on the West Coast to a saintly volunteer at a children's hospital in Detroit. Occasionally, the talk shocked Harrison: Several blacks complained about black indolence and crime; young black men found black women ``too manly.'' Blacks, the author notes, speak a different language than whites, communicating through rhythm as well as content. At journey's end, Harrison found himself ``less frightened'' of blacks, admiring their humor, skepticism, and resourcefulness. He contends that the ``white liberal piety'' of black-white sameness is a lie; that racial distrust runs deep; and that it's up to whites to solve the problem. Too long by far, but an engrossing, multilayered portrait—as well as a touching personal odyssey. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 1993

ISBN: 0-06-016558-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1992

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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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