An elegant survey of the causes and effects of polarization in America.

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THE MAKING OF AMERICA'S FURY

The National Book Award–winning journalist examines the ideological gaps that have widened between 9/11 and the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

After years of reporting from China, the longtime New Yorker staffer returned to find that America had lost its gift for “the rational approach, reason, the meeting of minds in honorable agreement after open argument” that John Gunther described in his 1947 bestseller, Inside U.S.A. “If American history is a story of constant rebalancing—between greed and generosity, industry and nature, identity and assimilation—then the country had spun so far out of balance it had lost its center of gravity,” writes Osnos. He explores how it happened through stellar reporting that blends a high-altitude view of national changes with close-ups of private citizens in three places he’s lived in the U.S. Osnos is at his best in his superb portrait of Greenwich, Connecticut, where he grew up in the “Golden Triangle” that “represented the highest concentration of wealth in America” and where values shifted along with an influx of hedge fund money. Greenwich grandees once included people like Prescott Bush, the father and grandfather of future presidents, “who believed, fundamentally, in the duty of government to help people who did not enjoy his considerable advantages.” Conversely, the current generation tends to see its wealth as self-justifying and to prefer “targeted private philanthropy” to activities like serving on “local charity boards.” Osnos is slightly less insightful about Chicago, where Black residents have felt stung by the gap between their Obama-era hopes and the persistence of bigotry, and West Virginia, where predatory tactics by so-called vulture investors and others have robbed mineworkers of precious benefits. Other recent books have dealt more astutely with some of his subjects—Chris McGreal’s American Overdose with West Virginia’s opioid epidemic and John Woodrow Cox’s Children Under Fire with gun violence—but as an overview of a fractious ideological landscape, this skillful treatment is hard to beat.

An elegant survey of the causes and effects of polarization in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-28667-5

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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