Opinionated, self-deprecating and humorous—and for supporters of Israel, an unwelcome interpretation of the situation there.



A Dutch journalist’s reflective take on the difficulties inherent in covering the news from the Middle East, where he was a reporter from 1998 to 2003.

When Luyendijk was hired by the newspaper Volkskrant and Dutch Radio 1 News to be their Middle East correspondent, the novice journalist gradually came to the conclusion that good journalism in a dictatorship is a contradiction in terms because of four factors: fear, the absence of verifiable facts and figures, the vulnerability of sources and, finally, the most important element, the dictatorship itself. The author takes readers behind the scenes of so-called on-the-spot reporting, where the journalist has no more access to facts than his editor in an office half way across the globe. The wire services—Associated Press, Reuters, etc.—are the principal sources of news, and Luyendijk compares the production of news to that of bread in a factory: “The correspondents stand at the end of the conveyor belt, pretending we’ve baked the white loaf ourselves, while in fact all we’ve done is put it in its wrapping.” What the public wants to hear, he asserts, is often what the media reports, providing people with views that jibe with their preconceived notions. Luyendijk divides his report into three parts: his early years learning the ropes, his time covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the lead-up to the war in Iraq. In the author’s view the Israelis are masters of public relations, much better than the Palestinians at fighting the media war, with the result that terrorism receives more coverage than the occupation. As for the American government’s public-relations effort preceding the invasion of Iraq, Luyendijk writes that “the creators of Disney World were at work.” Personal anecdotes and jokes lighten the author’s serious message about the flaws in the system that produces what passes for news from the Arab world. Originally published in the Netherlands in 2006, the book includes an Afterword in which Luyendijk summarizes the problems and offers suggestions for change.

Opinionated, self-deprecating and humorous—and for supporters of Israel, an unwelcome interpretation of the situation there.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59376-256-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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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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