It’s too early to proclaim a revolution, but Ewalt interviews entrepreneurs and brilliant nerds, tries their inventions, and...

DEFYING REALITY

THE INSIDE STORY OF THE VIRTUAL REALITY REVOLUTION

An introduction to the future of virtual reality during the time of its “most explosive period of growth.”

Artificial intelligence may preoccupy computer experts, but virtual reality is the true next big thing according to this enthusiastic and convincing account by technology journalist Ewalt (Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons and Dragons and the People Who Play It, 2013), a contributing editor to Forbes and special projects editor for Reuters. Reviewing recent advances, the author adds that it’s only a matter of time before a digital headset, gloves, and suit become as essential to a modern house as a modem. Connected to a computer or smartphone, the wearer takes part in a scenario simulating a realistic experience. “This technology could allow us to escape the bodies we’re born with and the geographies that confine us,” writes Ewalt. “It could allow us to experience the impossible, to do the unthinkable.” Those who assume that only adolescents yearn for an alternate world will reconsider after reading the author’s capsule history of the arts, from the 20,000-year-old Lascaux cave drawings through Greek drama, Renaissance painting, photography, and the movies. Virtual reality is yet another technical improvement, however dramatic. The 1970s brought primitive head-mounted displays. By 1990, commercial applications appeared, and “the hype was on” with rhapsodic media announcements of the VR revolution. Sadly, inadequate 20th-century computer power produced clunky, only mildly enchanting devices, and VR shared the late ’90s dot-com crash. Yet progress continues, and the past five years have seen spectacularly immersive VR products and games, with VR movies just around the corner, along with a new crop of billionaires.

It’s too early to proclaim a revolution, but Ewalt interviews entrepreneurs and brilliant nerds, tries their inventions, and leaves beguiled readers in no doubt that something wonderful is in the works.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-101-98371-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

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. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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