A clearly written account of a widespread social malady that is sure to gain further attention in coming years.



How interactive technologies facilitate newly debilitating addictions.

Alter (Marketing/NYU Stern School of Business; Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave, 2013) applies psychological insight and business acumen to his argument that compulsive usage of smartphones and social media is not peripheral but rather central to their engineering and lucrative, seductive qualities. “The environment and circumstance of the digital age are far more conducive to addiction than anything humans have experienced in our history,” he writes. Although he speaks to game designers and other innovators, he focuses on the tangled psychology behind “behavioral addiction” and nascent efforts to treat it—despite a lack of consensus on whether or how to do so. Alter first explores how behavioral addiction resembles substance abuse, although it is more widespread and thus often free of moral opprobrium. This amplifies its risk to professionals, who underestimate their time spent engrossed by a constantly expanding menu of technologies. Video games have ensnared a wide demographic, as well. Consider the immersive appeal of World of Warcraft, and even simplistic games like Farmville captivated the unsuspecting, due to having “a new [gaming] rhythm that fits into…people’s lives.” Similar patterns can be seen in the rise of “smartwatches” and ubiquitous email: “The same technology that [now] drives people to over-exercise also binds them to the workplace twenty-four hours a day.” The exhibitionistic nature of social-network apps enables a similarly insidious hidden hold on users, which Alter connects to Mark Zuckerberg’s insight that “people are endlessly driven to compare themselves to other people.” While such behavior might seem acceptable in adults, the author is alarmed by evidence that “screen time” is warping the mental and emotional development of younger generations. He bolsters such points with sociology and marketing studies, although more focus on the fast-changing technology industry itself would have firmed up his discussion.

A clearly written account of a widespread social malady that is sure to gain further attention in coming years.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59420-664-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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