An eye-opening look at computer technology and its discontents and limitations.

BITWISE

A LIFE IN CODE

“We don’t think right for our world today,” writes programmer and technology writer Auerbach—and putting computers to work solving that fundamental problem is not a panacea.

Computers are tools, and while they may one day outthink us, inaugurating what futurists call the singularity, they’re still tools that can reinforce our human limitations even as they help us to work around them: “if we feed them our prejudices, computers will happily recite those prejudices back to us in quantitative and seemingly objective form,” even making our prejudices seem rational. An early employee at both Microsoft and Google, Auerbach is the rare engineer who is also conversant with literature and philosophy, both of which he brings to bear on interpreting his experiences as a builder of these thinking machines and the heuristics and languages that guide them. In that work, design is everything. One of the author’s asides, which fuels a central theme, concerns the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which, several editions on, has mutated from its initial goal of standardizing how psychiatrists diagnose disorders to a complex reference for “physician diagnosis, actuarial insurance practices, longitudinal research studies, drug regulation, and more.” Just so, our machines are deficient in many ways, as with Google’s effort to scan millions of books into a Library of Babel that is, in fact, a mess, so that the “heaps of code” thus amassed are best used as approximations rather than trustworthy models. In this matter, he adds, “Google is a dumb god.” Interestingly, Auerbach brings his discussion to a close by counseling that we not worry too much about what, say, big technology companies are planning to do with our data. “At companies like Google or Facebook,” writes the author, “programmers engage with people’s personal information in such a way that they are indifferent to its implications.” That should make the techno-anxious feel a little better—until the machines think better and take over.

An eye-opening look at computer technology and its discontents and limitations.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-101-87129-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

A MEMOIR

In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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