THE GREAT DISRUPTION

HUMAN NATURE AND THE RECONSTITUTION OF SOCIAL ORDER

Technological and economic progress meet social decay in this ambitious book that promises more than it delivers. Part of what makes reading Fukuyama (Public Policy/George Mason Univ.) fun and interesting is his willingness to take on big questions, as he did in The End of History and the Last Man (1992). Here he tackles what he finds to be the epochal transformation of developed societies into a “postindustrial era” where information and knowledge form the basis of economic life. He finds this transformation to be as monumental as the Industrial Revolution, and as disruptive. The dawn of the postindustrial era, roughly since the 1960s, has been accompanied by dramatic increases in crime, family breakups, and public distrust. Why has this occurred, what is the connection between technological change and social upheaval? Fukuyama maintains that technological changes have allowed certain things to occur that would not have otherwise. A post-industrial economy, which needs brains not brawn, has allowed unprecedented numbers of women to enter the workforce. While not necessarily bad in itself, this trend has contributed to the breakdown of families. When this happens, naturally aggressive young men do not have the checks on their actions that a strong family presents, hence the increase in crime. The advent of “the pill” and abortion have allowed men to be sexually more promiscuous and abdicate their communal responsibilities, such as “control[ling] access to women” on the part of younger men. Fukuyama deals with much more, yet what he says returns again and again to family. In the end he is optimistic that families, and hence society, will right themselves, for we are social animals and it is in our nature to reconstitute society into viable and functional forms. He may be correct, but the book ends up being a disingenuous defense of specific values rather than any dispassionate analysis of the interactions of technological and social change. A disappointing effort that, for all its detail, says very little.

Pub Date: June 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-684-84530-X

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1999

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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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