A sobering analysis of geopolitics and current events.

NO END TO WAR

TERRORISM IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

“To be hated is a consequence of being great and powerful. It can be remedied not by becoming gentler, only by becoming weaker.”

So writes Laqueur (Center for Strategic and International Studies; The New Terrorism, 1999, etc.), a longtime, and prescient, student of terrorist movements through history. In this survey, he ranges over some of those movements—the IRA and the Irgun against the British, Algerian independence fighters against French pieds-noirs, anarchists against capitalists—to discern the patterns of organization and action that define what strategists term the “asymmetric warfare” of terrorism. Real wars, writes Laqueur, are expensive, but terrorism is relatively cheap and open to all comers, which means that terrorism as we now know it “will be with us for as long as anyone can envision, even if not always at the same frequency and intensity” as it raged in September 2001. That month brought to America a horrendous fact that much of the rest of the world has known for a long time: citing the Indian subcontinent as a likely flashpoint for terrorist movements in the coming years, Laqueur observes that the number of victims of terrorism in the single Indian state of Tripura “was larger in the 1990s than that in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” a fact that few world media or governmental figures have bothered to explore. Laqueur explores this imbalance while calmly insisting that terrorism is an ineradicable fact of modern life—and calmly reassuring American readers than there is no good evidence to suggest that we’re any more hated than any other imperial power of the past or present. Even so, that will come as small comfort to those who envision happier times ahead, for, Laqueur argues, “there is a huge reservoir of aggression” out there, thanks to which “the combination of paranoia, fanaticism, and extremist political (or religious) doctrine” on which terrorism feeds will only blossom in the years to come.

A sobering analysis of geopolitics and current events.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-8264-1435-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Continuum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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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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