by Adam Kucharski ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 7, 2020
Utterly timely and readable, if not terribly comforting in the midst of the current pandemic.
A geeky but fascinating exploration of the mathematics of things that go viral—not least of them viruses.
“If we want a better grasp of contagion, we need to account for its dynamic nature,” writes Kucharski, who does mathematical modeling of disease transmission at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. He elaborates throughout: Contagion is constantly in motion as it courses through a population, finding its “susceptibles” and slowing down as the number of susceptibles declines. By the author’s capable account, the math works out pretty much the same whether applied to some negative force, such as a COVID-19 category virus or the concomitant financial crumbling that has surrounded it, or some positive force—e.g., a cultural innovation such as a pop song or dance move. Kucharski works his way through some key epidemiological ideas, including one advanced by the scientist who put it together that malaria was spread by mosquitos, earning him the Nobel Prize—although that scientist later protested that his larger achievement was formulating “general laws of epidemics.” These laws embody a mathematical formula that looks rather like an hourglass turned on its side, representing three key groups: the susceptible, the infectious, and the recovered. There are also the dead, of course, but they don’t move, as the dynamic model does. Kucharski takes his readers down provocative detours, such as the use of public-health models of disease transmission to examine how social networks figure in urban gun violence, with algorithms that take into account such things as “age gang affiliations, and prior arrests.” When things go viral, all kinds of interesting mathematical and real-world effects can happen, from stock market bubbles to horrific explosions of disease. Kucharski is there, calculator in hand, to suss it all out, and highly numerate readers will enjoy going along with the ride to guesstimate the R value of a contagion’s spread.Utterly timely and readable, if not terribly comforting in the midst of the current pandemic.
Pub Date: July 7, 2020
Page Count: 352
Publisher: Basic Books
Review Posted Online: April 28, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020
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by Walter Isaacson ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 12, 2023
Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.
Awards & Accolades
New York Times Bestseller
A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.
To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.
Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023
Page Count: 688
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023
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The lessons to draw are obvious: Smoke more dope, eat less meat. Like-minded readers will dig it.
The chef, rapper, and TV host serves up a blustery memoir with lashings of self-help.
“I’ve always had a sick confidence,” writes Bronson, ne Ariyan Arslani. The confidence, he adds, comes from numerous sources: being a New Yorker, and more specifically a New Yorker from Queens; being “short and fucking husky” and still game for a standoff on the basketball court; having strength, stamina, and seemingly no fear. All these things serve him well in the rough-and-tumble youth he describes, all stickball and steroids. Yet another confidence-builder: In the big city, you’ve got to sink or swim. “No one is just accepted—you have to fucking show that you’re able to roll,” he writes. In a narrative steeped in language that would make Lenny Bruce blush, Bronson recounts his sentimental education, schooled by immigrant Italian and Albanian family members and the mean streets, building habits good and bad. The virtue of those habits will depend on your take on modern mores. Bronson writes, for example, of “getting my dick pierced” down in the West Village, then grabbing a pizza and smoking weed. “I always smoke weed freely, always have and always will,” he writes. “I’ll just light a blunt anywhere.” Though he’s gone through the classic experiences of the latter-day stoner, flunking out and getting arrested numerous times, Bronson is a hard charger who’s not afraid to face nearly any challenge—especially, given his physique and genes, the necessity of losing weight: “If you’re husky, you’re always dieting in your mind,” he writes. Though vulgar and boastful, Bronson serves up a model that has plenty of good points, including his growing interest in nature, creativity, and the desire to “leave a legacy for everybody.”The lessons to draw are obvious: Smoke more dope, eat less meat. Like-minded readers will dig it.
Pub Date: April 20, 2021
Page Count: 184
Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021
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