A serious consideration of the online world that sparkles with charm and wit.

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THE NET DELUSION

THE DARK SIDE OF INTERNET FREEDOM

In his debut, Foreign Policy contributing editor Morozov pulls the Internet into sharp focus, exposing the limits of its inner logic, its reckless misuse and the dangerous myopia of its champions.

The author provides a damaging assessment of domestic and foreign Internet policy that remains entertaining despite its dour warnings. As the Internet becomes more widely available in remote corners of the world, writers Morozov, it becomes harder to regulate. Even without a blueprint or common grammar, policymakers, social critics and social scientists tend to embrace online communication as an emancipatory political mechanism that promotes democracy. Everywhere, commentators focus on the amazing revolutionary potential of the Internet to broadcast political struggle, rather than the political struggle itself. In 2009, thousands of Iranians took to the streets of Tehran to protest what they saw as the fraudulent re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Armed with smartphones and Twitter accounts, protestors were able to reach the world in a matter of minutes, and images of police brutality quickly reached the Internet-surfing world via Facebook and Twitter. When the initial exuberance behind the “Twitter revolution” waned, the Iranian government used the same social-networking sites, even YouTube, to identify and arrest would-be insurrectionists. As the Internet proves ineffective in the struggle for global democratic revolution, it expertly transforms entire populations into passive consumers of commercial mass media, revealing one of the most fundamental of political problems: motivation. Assuming that the Internet can be regulated, how can it promote global democracy while the world’s connected millions are surfing YouTube for funny cat videos? It’s a hopeless battle, but despite the immeasurable barriers to Internet-driven democracy, Morozov still believes the Internet can be used to promote democracy, as long as new policies are unbiased, realistic and cognizant of the connections between the Internet, local political contexts and foreign-policy agendas. Easier said than done.

A serious consideration of the online world that sparkles with charm and wit.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-58648-874-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2010

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

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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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