Well above ephemeral trend-spotting, Sterling’s high-IQ futurism is sure to be devoured by hackers and the remaining Silicon...



Transforming hype into epigrams and forebodings into witty deconstructions of today’s moral panics in a look at the near future.

Cyber-punk guru (The Hacker Crackdown, 1992) and SF novelist (Zeitgeist, 2000, etc.) Sterling makes these seven essays parallel to the famous “seven ages of man” speech of Jacques in As You like It. Around Jacques’s seven—the infant, the student, the lover, the soldier, the justice, the pantaloon, and, finally mere oblivion—Sterling wraps his themes of genetic engineering, education, warfare, politics, economics, and death. His premise is that we have recently experienced a belle époque that began with the end of the Cold War and was marked by a sudden influx of new technologies and economic growth in the ’90s. The larger question here is whether that epoch will continue or whether it is destined to be doomed by military, political, or economic catastrophe. In answer, Sterling employs a smorgasbord of science facts, New Economics paradigms, and insights from his personal life. “If science fiction has any truly profound insight to offer us, it’s that existence really is weird. Human ideas of ‘normality’ are always merely local and temporal,” he writes at one point, providing us with a good standard by which to judge him: The weirder the chapters, the better they are. The first, which envisions an industrial use of bacteria that goes well beyond the medical, is a tour de force, as is the chapter on the Lover, which, contrary to expectations, is about the love of objects—fetishism as the driving force of design. The chapters on networks and the New Economics have a more retro-futuristic feel: this is the world envisioned in Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree and already sounds obsolete.

Well above ephemeral trend-spotting, Sterling’s high-IQ futurism is sure to be devoured by hackers and the remaining Silicon Valley CEOs.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-679-46322-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2002

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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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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.


“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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