Next book

BLOOD IN THE MACHINE

THE ORIGINS OF THE REBELLION AGAINST BIG TECH

A well-argued linkage of early industrial and postindustrial struggles for workers’ rights.

A history of the 19th-century revolutionaries who fought against the machine.

In 1812, writes Merchant, the author of The One Device, British workers watched as power looms began to displace them, then rose up in a movement named after a young rebel named Ned Ludd, leading the UK to “the brink of civil war.” Two centuries later, advanced digital technology in the hands of capitalists threatens human livelihoods in many fields, occasion for a new Luddite revolt. Merchant chronicles how the British militants didn’t necessarily object to labor-saving devices, but instead to how they were used—namely, to enrich a small handful of industrialists at the expense of a great mass of skilled workers. Indeed, Merchant adds, when textile workers asked that a machine be put in place to measure thread count, an index of quality, the owners refused, “preferring to retain the unilateral power to determine the quality of a garment themselves, and to offer workers the prices they approved of.” Under such conditions, weavers’ wages fell by nearly half between 1800 and 1811, good reason for protest. At times, those demonstrations turned violent, with factories burned and one particularly hated capitalist murdered. Some reforms ensued, but the supremacy of the bosses endured. Just so, Merchant writes compellingly, while today’s gig workers may object to the whims of employers who offer few benefits and jobs that “are subject to sudden changes in workload and pay rates,” it seems unlikely that those bosses will change their ways short of a mass uprising. After all, Merchant charges, Jeff Bezos determined that it was cheaper to keep emergency technicians on hand to treat heatstroke rather than air-condition some of his warehouses. “And since Amazon does it,” writes the author, “everyone else must make their employees machinelike as well, if they hope to keep pace.”

A well-argued linkage of early industrial and postindustrial struggles for workers’ rights.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9780316487740

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2023

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 51


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2023


  • New York Times Bestseller

Next book

ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 51


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2023


  • 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

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

Next book

GENGHIS KHAN AND THE MAKING OF THE MODERN WORLD

A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

“The Mongols swept across the globe as conquerors,” writes the appreciative pop anthropologist-historian Weatherford (The History of Money, 1997, etc.), “but also as civilization’s unrivaled cultural carriers.”

No business-secrets fluffery here, though Weatherford does credit Genghis Khan and company for seeking “not merely to conquer the world but to impose a global order based on free trade, a single international law, and a universal alphabet with which to write all the languages of the world.” Not that the world was necessarily appreciative: the Mongols were renowned for, well, intemperance in war and peace, even if Weatherford does go rather lightly on the atrocities-and-butchery front. Instead, he accentuates the positive changes the Mongols, led by a visionary Genghis Khan, brought to the vast territories they conquered, if ever so briefly: the use of carpets, noodles, tea, playing cards, lemons, carrots, fabrics, and even a few words, including the cheer hurray. (Oh, yes, and flame throwers, too.) Why, then, has history remembered Genghis and his comrades so ungenerously? Whereas Geoffrey Chaucer considered him “so excellent a lord in all things,” Genghis is a byword for all that is savage and terrible; the word “Mongol” figures, thanks to the pseudoscientific racism of the 19th century, as the root of “mongoloid,” a condition attributed to genetic throwbacks to seed sown by Mongol invaders during their decades of ravaging Europe. (Bad science, that, but Dr. Down’s son himself argued that imbeciles “derived from an earlier form of the Mongol stock and should be considered more ‘pre-human, rather than human.’ ”) Weatherford’s lively analysis restores the Mongols’ reputation, and it takes some wonderful learned detours—into, for instance, the history of the so-called Secret History of the Mongols, which the Nazis raced to translate in the hope that it would help them conquer Russia, as only the Mongols had succeeded in doing.

A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

Pub Date: March 2, 2004

ISBN: 0-609-61062-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2003

Close Quickview