Though the book serves as a corrective to cybertech utopianism, even the author admits, “I certainly couldn’t have written...

THE INTERNET IS NOT THE ANSWER

A Silicon Valley veteran and journalist sounds the alarm on the pernicious effects of the Internet.

Everything you love about the Internet—the connection, the convenience, the way it puts the world of information, goods and services at your fingertips—has its dark, Orwellian side, argues Keen (Digital Vertigo: How Today's Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us2012, etc.). Yes, the Internet changed the corporate playing field, and some have played by the new rules far better than others, but the book sometimes makes it seem that such success is itself a crime: “As in the medieval world, Google, Apple, and Facebook have detached themselves from the physical reality of the increasingly impoverished communities around them.” Keen rightly warns about loss of privacy (often willingly if unwittingly surrendered), about fortunes made through consumers working for free (with every Facebook post or Google search), about a future, if not the present, in which every connection is monitored and exploited. But his laments about the crash of Kodak and the demise of so many record stores suggest that he might as well be pining for the steam locomotive and quill pen. While he admits that much of the cultural change has been driven by consumers, leading to winner-take-all fortunes for whoever satisfies the customer best, those consumers simply don’t see the big picture: “Internet evangelists, especially libertarian entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos, see everything in terms of satisfying the customer. And while Amazon does indeed satisfy most of us as consumers, it is having a far less satisfactory outcome for citizens.” For all of his doomsday prophecy, Keen’s solutions seem scaled down and conventional: recommendations for “technology Sabbaths or joining the ‘slow Web’ movement” and to “use the law and regulation to force the Internet out of its prolonged adolescence.”

Though the book serves as a corrective to cybertech utopianism, even the author admits, “I certainly couldn’t have written this book without the miracles of email and the Web.”

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123138

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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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. 29, 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. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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