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TRAFFIC

GENIUS, RIVALRY, AND DELUSION IN THE BILLION-DOLLAR RACE TO GO VIRAL

There’s no better history of the Wild West days of early social media than this one.

The founding editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News recounts life in the tech-startup trenches.

Jonah Peretti, co-founder of BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post, began his media career on a fluke note, engaging in what used to be called “culture jamming” with Nike, goofing on its labor practices by requesting a bespoke pair of shoes emblazoned with the word sweatshop. In 2001, he ignited what became one of the first instances of something going viral on the internet. That culture jamming of two decades ago would become the flame-war-scorched social media of today. So it was with the man who would become Peretti’s “nemesis, his archrival, and his polar opposite,” British immigrant Nick Denton, who obsessively gathered page views that could in turn be monetized in ad sales, yielding the Gawker website. By Smith’s account, although Denton was more businesslike, he was also wedded to click-bait gossip, if sometimes with a social purpose: “The Gawker scoop of his dreams had always been to out a gay, Christian Republican senator, and thus reveal right-wing hypocrisy in its most naked form.” Alas, he ran up against right-wing billionaire Peter Thiel instead, “a schemer who believed in revenge served cold,” who took years and spent a fortune to lay Gawker to waste. The author gives a detailed, smart account of the foibles of those early days, when no one knew how to conduct decent journalism and make money at the same time. His discussion of the Huffington Post is especially telling as a study in haplessness. Along the way, he tells entertaining out-of-school tales of the early Facebook, the Drudge Report, Breitbart, and Twitter. Self-aware and self-critical, Smith allows that while all these entities helped create today’s digital culture, it was often not for the better, even if Denton today voices hope for “a Talmudic internet still to be made.”

There’s no better history of the Wild West days of early social media than this one.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-593-29975-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 10, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2023

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WHAT THIS COMEDIAN SAID WILL SHOCK YOU

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

The comedian argues that the arts of moderation and common sense must be reinvigorated.

Some people are born snarky, some become snarky, and some have snarkiness thrust upon them. Judging from this book, Maher—host of HBO’s Real Time program and author of The New New Rules and When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden—is all three. As a comedian, he has a great deal of leeway to make fun of people in politics, and he often delivers hilarious swipes with a deadpan face. The author describes himself as a traditional liberal, with a disdain for Republicans (especially the MAGA variety) and a belief in free speech and personal freedom. He claims that he has stayed much the same for more than 20 years, while the left, he argues, has marched toward intolerance. He sees an addiction to extremism on both sides of the aisle, which fosters the belief that anyone who disagrees with you must be an enemy to be destroyed. However, Maher has always displayed his own streaks of extremism, and his scorched-earth takedowns eventually become problematic. The author has something nasty to say about everyone, it seems, and the sarcastic tone starts after more than 300 pages. As has been the case throughout his career, Maher is best taken in small doses. The book is worth reading for the author’s often spot-on skewering of inept politicians and celebrities, but it might be advisable to occasionally dip into it rather than read the whole thing in one sitting. Some parts of the text are hilarious, but others are merely insulting. Maher is undeniably talented, but some restraint would have produced a better book.

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

Pub Date: May 21, 2024

ISBN: 9781668051351

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

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Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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