An ugly and hysterical episode in American history, vividly rendered by a dogged student of the era.

THE TEN-CENT PLAGUE

THE GREAT COMIC-BOOK SCARE AND HOW IT CHANGED AMERICA

What happened when Americans discovered what their children were reading between luridly colored covers.

“The panic over comic books falls somewhere between the Red Scare and the frenzy over UFOs among the pathologies of postwar America,” writes Hajdu (Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña, and Richard Fariña, 2001, etc.). The road that led from opportunistic moralists through a newly militarized and nationalistic society to paper bonfires was swiftly traveled during the 1950s, according to this sobering history. Hajdu begins by laying out the exponential growth of the comics industry in the early 20th century, covering some admittedly well-traveled territory with aplomb. A thick network of improbably talented and productive artists, writers and money men worked at dizzying speed, and outrage was nearly always snapping at their heels. Twice it seemed the industry was about to be submerged by a wave of indignation—pre-1917 moral watchdogs decried crude Sunday funnies for distracting the lower classes from the Sabbath; their 1930s counterparts critiqued Superman as a proto-Nazi authoritarian—but world wars intervened to divert people’s attention. The 1950s, however, were a different story. Superheroes had been shoved to the side in a fickle marketplace by lurid crime and horror pulps. By the end of 1954, with McCarthy on the wane and no great national crisis to absorb a country accustomed to witch hunts, scolds quickly whipped up an outcry over comics, quoting so-called experts who linked them (with no evidence) to a perceived growth in juvenile delinquency. A wave of Senate hearings and outraged editorials led to an ugly coast-to-coast parade of comic-book burnings and the end of a popular art form. Half the comics on newsstands disappeared between 1954 and ’56; five major publishers folded.

An ugly and hysterical episode in American history, vividly rendered by a dogged student of the era.

Pub Date: March 25, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-374-18767-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2007

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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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