A tasty, educational treat for tech heads and other web denizens.

HOW THE INTERNET HAPPENED

FROM NETSCAPE TO THE IPHONE

The internet was not meant for the likes of us—and yet we have it, through means that tech historian McCullough capably recounts in this wide-ranging history of the internet era.

It wasn’t so long ago that technologists dismissed the thought that ordinary mortals would have a use for a computer and not so long ago that the internet was a skeletal version of its present self, confined to computers administered by the military-industrial complex. Chalk the change up, writes the author, to the opening of the net to civilian traffic—and then to techies at the University of Illinois who, building on earlier platforms, launched the first browser in 1993, early on called X Mosaic “because it was designed to work with X Window, a graphical user interface popular with users of Unix machines.” If any of the terms in the preceding clause are mysterious, then this book may prove tough slogging, but it has plenty of odd drama. For example, Bill Gates came calling on what later became Netscape, hoping to build an alliance; when rebuffed, he retooled Microsoft in order to build a browser of its own, having quickly divined how important the internet would become. McCullough’s story is populated by numerous geeky heroes, notable among them Steve Jobs but most far less familiar, along with some free-riders and businesspeople who realized that the internet’s free gift to the world was something that could be turned into a cash cow. Writes the author, “the Internet might have been launched in Silicon Valley, but to a large extent, it was monetized by startups in New York City.” Most of the individual components of McCullough’s story, which closes with the arrival of the “completely, conceptually perfect” iPhone in 2007, are well-documented, but few other histories of modern technology connect them so fluently. In this, the narrative resembles Steven Levy’s by now ancient Hackers (1984) and John Markoff’s more recent What the Dormouse Said (2005); it compares favorably to both.

A tasty, educational treat for tech heads and other web denizens.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63149-307-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Winner

LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more