An informed look at the social impact of the Internet.



Digital-age guru Shirky (Interactive Telecommunications/New York Univ.; Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, 2008, etc.) argues that new technology is making it possible for people to collaborate in ways that have the potential to change society.

By “cognitive surplus,” the author refers to the free time of the world's educated citizenry, which amounts to more than one trillion hours per year. In recent decades, the author writes, most people have devoted much of that time-20 hours per week-to watching television. But that is changing. Young people are now spending less time as passive TV viewers, or consumers, and more time using fast, interactive media as producers and sharers in pursuit of their favorite activities. Their behavior demonstrates that in a wired society it is possible to turn free time into a shared global resource that can be harnessed to connect individuals to achieve beneficial outcomes. Examples include such innovations as Wikipedia, the online free-content encyclopedia;, a global rideshare community; and, which was created to gather citizen-generated reports on acts of violence in Kenya. In this well-written and highly speculative book, Shirky suggests that in these ways new media has enormous potential to transform our lives. No longer an abstraction called “cyberspace,” social-media tools are now part of daily life, he writes. As society's connective tissue, they are flexible, cheap and inclusive, and allow people to behave in increasingly generous and social ways. The author discusses the many factors that have given rise to social media and suggests the conditions that will best allow voluntary groups to take advantage of the world's aggregate free time to benefit society. “If we want to create new forms of civic value,” he writes, “we need to improve the ability of small groups to try radical things.” Shirky may be overly optimistic about the possible benefits of social media, but he makes clear their growing global importance.

An informed look at the social impact of the Internet.

Pub Date: June 14, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59420-253-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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A quirky wonder of a book.



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. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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

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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. 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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