A compact, accessible, and intelligently delivered update on China’s evolving economic and political front via one...

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LITTLE RICE

SMARTPHONES, XIAOMI, AND THE CHINESE DREAM

A compact report on the world’s biggest economy, told through the story of the third-largest global manufacturer of smartphones.

Prominent technology writer Shirky (Journalism and Interactive Telecommunications/New York Univ.; Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, 2010, etc.) spent a year in Shanghai researching the hyperlucrative communications market, which has exploded in popularity and demand. This has created an unmatched “teledensity” rate: even poverty-stricken populations retain a mobile phone penetration factor of upward of 58 percent—three phones for every five people. Building on this data, the author focuses his attention on the booming startup software firm Xiaomi Tech (“little rice” in Mandarin) since its unassuming Beijing inception in 2010 by now-billionaire Lei Jun. Much more than just another Chinese export operation, Shirky contends that this industry innovator not only offers flexibility and freedom from an autocratic society, but openly challenges modern China’s closely scrutinized governmental control over its citizens’ online activities. Documenting a guided tour of the company’s offices, the author concisely documents Xiaomi’s beginnings from offering carefully prototyped consumer hardware to its MIUI operating system. Shirky also viewed the firm’s intricate cluster of “advertising” programmers, who were busy producing unique internal tools to communicate with users. The company soon branched out to further embrace and capitalize on the colossal smartphone revolution with its Mi-phone series, alongside advanced industrial design and online services. Shirky condenses both the history of the “Chinese Dream” and more contemporary notes on Chinese commerce and politics without criticism, leaving the determination up to readers whether the direction technology is taking consumers, both inside and outside of China, is beneficial or otherwise. Still, as Xiaomi continues to openly compete with other world-class designers and electronic originators, the Chinese-borne caveat remains that “the forces of conservatism and corruption always threaten to freeze progress.”

A compact, accessible, and intelligently delivered update on China’s evolving economic and political front via one particularly accomplished electronics venture.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9909763-2-5

Page Count: 130

Publisher: Columbia Global Reports

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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

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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

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