A swift, inspired, and thought-provoking examination of the intersections of heroism, racial identity, and diversity.



A concise, mindful discussion of race, culture, and the politics of celebrity.

In his chapbook-length essay, London-based poet and critic Harris (All This Is Implied, 2017) brings two well-known personalities into vivid focus to compare and contrast their experiences as biracial “supermen” within their own separate arenas. The author explores the lives and legacies of Barack Obama and Keanu Reeves from the perspective of their mixed-race heritages and how that particular aspect drew power, honor, and visibility to their work and to their names. The author believes many mixed-race people approach society with hesitation and perpetual confusion, much like he does as a lifelong Londoner of mixed Indonesian and Dutch heritage. Harris envisions mixed-race supermen, embodied by Obama and Reeves, as those who manage to defy simplistic stereotyping and have figured out “how to make their confusion heroic, to embody contradiction.” The author recalls his fascination with the former president as a proud, intelligent politician who “not only looked different, but talked beautifully—and knowingly—of his mixed-race upbringing. Here was a story that was long and painful but seemed to bend implacably toward justice.” As the iconic Neo character in the Matrix films, Reeves can also be considered a mixed-race superhero, fending off multiplying CGI agents of doom and attempting to survive amid legions of detractors. Where Harris shines brightest and is most convincing is when he integrates into the discussion his personal history, heritage, and racial impressions and experiences. He cites violent crimes occurring in the 1980s and ’90s whose investigations were hindered and ultimately mishandled due to racial profiling as well as his frustrations with his parents’ indifference when confronted with racial bias in various scenarios. An observant writer, Harris shares illuminating intellectual analysis that incorporates philosophical introspection (he notes Reeves’ “Nietzschean streak”), references to Greek mythology, and American politics in a stimulating narrative of civil rights activism, pop-culture heroism, and the multilayered, heroic struggle of people of color.

A swift, inspired, and thought-provoking examination of the intersections of heroism, racial identity, and diversity.

Pub Date: July 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61219-789-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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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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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.


“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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