Civil libertarians as well as geopolitics buffs and tech geeks will find much of value here.

THE INFORMATION TRADE

HOW BIG TECH CONQUERS COUNTRIES, CHALLENGES OUR RIGHTS, AND TRANSFORMS OUR WORLD

Media analyst and New York City government official Wichowski examines the evolving relationships of nation-states and technology firms in the modern world.

Building on a 2017 Wired article, the author proposes that tech giants such as Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft are “net states,” battlefields and weapons alike in the political and martial realm. “Net states are entities that act like countries,” she writes, as with Silk Road, which, though manifestly engaged in illegal activities, also had a kind of sovereign right over private data entrusted to it by its users. In that case, when two governments wrestled over legal access to that data, a tech company, Microsoft, sheltered it—a precarious situation, to be sure, inasmuch as tech companies such as Google and Amazon are in the business of selling cloud storage to both government agencies and private individuals who might rightly object to their data being sold. Wichowski examines the behavior of net states IRL—in real life, that is—in such places as hurricane-damaged Puerto Rico, where Tesla and Google turned out to be more helpful than the federal government. She looks deeply into issues of privacy and the rights of technology users, whom so many of the net states seem to regard as mere troves of data. Wichowski notes that infrastructure improvements are likelier to be made by net states than “real” ones, all with a clear eye toward a future in which they are truly sovereign. She concludes her eminently accessible, deeply researched exploration by proposing that business models change so that consumers can more easily protect their data—but for a price, for “if our data, privacy, and sense of power are precious to us, then we need to offer something else that’s valuable. And just about everyone values money.” That may strike some as blackmail, but it seems eminently sensible given how much of it is afloat in the world, especially in the hands of nefarious actors.

Civil libertarians as well as geopolitics buffs and tech geeks will find much of value here.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-288898-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: HarperOne

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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