The author’s heart is in the right place, but it’s tough to rally the masses when your message seems more likely to appeal...

TWELVE STEPS TOWARD POLITICAL REVELATION

Bestselling novelist Mosley (The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, 2010) offers disenchanted denizens of the 21st century a screed-like guide to casting off the oppressive shackles of modern society.

It’s not as though the author lacks for laudable ideas in outlining a 12-step program to help disheartened Americans redefine themselves and gain control over forces—both political and economic—that seem hopelessly unconquerable. His recommendations to a populace beaten down by economic turmoil and deceitful leaders to be more honest with themselves and to find common ground with people of conflicting viewpoints by focusing on issues they do agree on are well-conceived and -articulated calls to action in a tumultuous time. Nevertheless, his program feels too vaguely prescriptive to do much more than remind readers that such problems exist, and that though they might be solvable, it won’t be easy. Compounding the problem is his apparently unintentionally comical rendering of what he sees as the nefarious villains pulling the strings behind the scenes: the “Joes,” or the class of wealthy elite who control the vast majority of the world’s wealth and resources—not through hard work or brilliance, he contends, but rather through a quirk of fate. The Joes, he argues, are in thrall to their overlord, the Great Shadow Joe—capitalism—and the only way they can be stopped is by a popular uprising that requires everyone else to recognize the truth of their situation, understand the value that they contribute to society and unite in common cause to topple the existing geopolitical infrastructure (peacefully, of course). Mosley’s a bit short on specifics when it comes to precisely how his recommendations will bring about major change, however, and his melodramatic rhetoric tends to obscure his solid ideas.

The author’s heart is in the right place, but it’s tough to rally the masses when your message seems more likely to appeal to the fringe.

Pub Date: May 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-56858-642-7

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Nation Books

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2011

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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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