Provocative reading: ammunition for pundits and food for thought for anyone with an interest in political trends.

THE PEOPLE VS. DEMOCRACY

WHY OUR FREEDOM IS IN DANGER AND HOW TO SAVE IT

The populists are on a rampage, and democratic institutions are in the way. Who will prevail?

There are times, writes Harvard government lecturer Mounk (The Age of Responsibility: Luck, Choice, and the Welfare State, 2017, etc.), when history seems to inch along, others when “everything changes all at once” and “a system of government that had seemed immutable looks as though it might come apart.” We live in one of those latter periods, and the news from the front is troubling. As the author notes, only one-third of millennials believe that “it is extremely important to live in a democracy,” and 1 in 6 Americans think that military rule is a good form of government. As a result, authoritarian populism has risen in America and elsewhere in the world, only a quarter-century after it seemed that with the fall of communism, liberal democracy would overtake the planet. Instead, “the primacy of the nation state has come roaring back.” Mounk documents several strains of this illiberality, many rising from the “rebellion against pluralism” that has announced itself in the culture war and the campaign against immigration, legal or otherwise. Accompanying this is a species of “demographic anxiety” about rising numbers of people in North America and Europe who are not of North American or European background as well as an overall decline in living standards and access to communications whereby malcontents can spread their views easily. Against all this, Mounk proposes reasonable remedies—or reasonable, one supposes, if one is not a political party operative, since, considering the Hillary Clinton defeat of 2016, he argues that “defenders of liberal democracy must demonstrate that they take the problems voters face seriously, and seek to effect real change.” Optimistically, the author even finds hope that the Trump administration will, by its bad example, “help to inoculate the United States against illiberal democracy.”

Provocative reading: ammunition for pundits and food for thought for anyone with an interest in political trends.

Pub Date: March 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-674-97682-5

Page Count: 370

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 14

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

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

Did you like this book?

more