WHY THINGS BITE BACK

TECHNOLOGY AND THE REVENGE OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

What do football helmets and laser printers have in common? According to Tenner, they exemplify a new sort of technological backlash that turns the promise of progress on its head. Tenner, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, argues that progress in numerous fields of endeavor has been undercut by unanticipated ``revenge effects,'' which he describes as ``ironic unintended consequences'' of human ingenuity. Examples are myriad: antibiotics that promise the cure of age-old disease but end up breeding resistant microorganisms; imported wildlife that competes too successfully with native species; computer printers that create better-looking documents—and force everyone to desktop-publish memos that would convey the same information if handwritten. The examples are organized under several headings, from medicine and environmental disasters to pests (both animal and vegetable), computerization, and sports (which, interestingly enough, offers some of the best evidence of the thesis). The football helmet, designed to reduce injuries, actually encourages a more violent style of play, creating a new and more serious kind of injury. While Tenner claims to be neither pro- nor anti-technology, he often seems to press his thesis beyond useful limits, as in his observation that those who dwell near wooded areas must now be on guard against tick bites; this is neither a new phenomenon nor an effect of technology. He has clearly done an impressive amount of research, but his footnotes (which attempt to cover whole paragraphs in one sweep) do not let the reader easily follow his research; often an interesting and provocative quote will go unattributed. And a convoluted style often forces a reader to reread an argument that could have been more simply stated. Tenner's subject is undoubtedly interesting, and his examples will strike close to home for many readers; the book would be even better if he had not tried to inflate his useful observations into universal truths.

Pub Date: May 6, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42563-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1996

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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