Demographers, entrepreneurs, students of history and sociology, and ordinary citizens alike will find plenty of provocations...

DATACLYSM

WHO WE ARE (WHEN WE THINK NO ONE'S LOOKING)

Are you a racist? Plainer-looking than you might wish? Inclined to vote left? Big data knows—and it’s talking.

Big data is more than numbers; it’s people. And it’s from the way that people describe themselves that the manipulators of big data know how to sell them stuff, which would seem to be the object of the exercise. If you visit a dating website such as OkCupid—which Rudder founded after receiving a math degree at Harvard—and say of yourself, “loves to be outside,” you’re statistically unlikely to be anything other than a white woman; add “country girl,” and the deal is sealed. The author looks at three big topics, often extrapolating from his own creation: “the data of people connecting,” “the data of division” and the data concerning “the individual alone.” What separates us is more interesting than what brings us together, and we’re incredibly inventive at finding ways to divide ourselves: sex and gender, age, appearance, cultural background, religion, musical likes, food preferences and, most of all, race. It is on that last, thorny subject that Rudder’s data becomes damningly meaningful: Americans are racist in ways that other nations are not, as measured simply by the exchange of flirtatious messages. The author is inclined to let the numbers speak for themselves without overlaying too much interpretation, though on race, he becomes impatient. We see things in aggregates and people as representatives of those aggregates, and “the patterns in the aggregate show that the dice, overall, are still loaded.” Although he hopes for a democratization of data that might further a more civil society, Rudder allows that it’s first-tier entities such as the National Security Agency and Facebook that are really in charge of the numbers, and it’s not comforting to know that “what’s being collected today is so deep it verges on bottomless.”

Demographers, entrepreneurs, students of history and sociology, and ordinary citizens alike will find plenty of provocations and, yes, much data in Rudder’s well-argued, revealing pages.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-34737-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN

Bernstein and Woodward, the two Washington Post journalists who broke the Big Story, tell how they did it by old fashioned seat-of-the-pants reporting — in other words, lots of intuition and a thick stack of phone numbers. They've saved a few scoops for the occasion, the biggest being the name of their early inside source, the "sacrificial lamb" H**h Sl**n. But Washingtonians who talked will be most surprised by the admission that their rumored contacts in the FBI and elsewhere never existed; many who were telephoned for "confirmation" were revealing more than they realized. The real drama, and there's plenty of it, lies in the private-eye tactics employed by Bernstein and Woodward (they refer to themselves in the third person, strictly on a last name basis). The centerpiece of their own covert operation was an unnamed high government source they call Deep Throat, with whom Woodward arranged secret meetings by positioning the potted palm on his balcony and through codes scribbled in his morning newspaper. Woodward's wee hours meetings with Deep Throat in an underground parking garage are sheer cinema: we can just see Robert Redford (it has to be Robert Redford) watching warily for muggers and stubbing out endless cigarettes while Deep Throat spills the inside dope about the plumbers. Then too, they amass enough seamy detail to fascinate even the most avid Watergate wallower — what a drunken and abusive Mitchell threatened to do to Post publisher Katherine Graham's tit, and more on the Segretti connection — including the activities of a USC campus political group known as the Ratfuckers whose former members served as a recruiting pool for the Nixon White House. As the scandal goes public and out of their hands Bernstein and Woodward seem as stunned as the rest of us at where their search for the "head ratfucker" has led. You have to agree with what their City Editor Barry Sussman realized way back in the beginning — "We've never had a story like this. Just never."

Pub Date: June 18, 1974

ISBN: 0671894412

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1974

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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