A thoughtful—and most thought-provoking—exploration of where our inventions have taken and will take us.



A pleasingly eccentric, impossibly wide-ranging tech treatise/memoir.

Dyson, an independent historian of technology and son of noted physicist Freeman and brother of tech maven Esther, opens his account of the arc of technology with Gottfried Leibniz, who, after vying with Isaac Newton to invent calculus, took a commission from Peter the Great of Russia that had several elements: one, to mount an expedition to Siberia, find out if and where Asia meets North America, and claim some land; two, to found a Russian academy of sciences to jump-start scholarship there; and three, to use computers to build “a rational society based on science, logic, and machine intelligence.” Thus the opening of one of the four ages, by Dyson’s count, of technology, another of which we’re just entering, one inaugurated when “machines began taking the side of nature, and nature began taking the side of the machines.” Racing from the Stone Age to the coming singularity, Dyson is in fine fettle. Leibniz figures, but so does the author’s beloved kayak-building hobby. So, too, does the Apache warrior Geronimo, who occasioned the development of a technology that prefigures the modern age of communicating devices—from heliograph to iPhone, that is, and in mighty leaps of prose (but never logic). “Nothing is to be gained by resisting the advance of the discrete-state machines,” Dyson memorably writes, “for the ghosts of the continuum will soon return, when the grass is eight inches high in the spring.” With luck, the machines will tolerate us, for the culminating point in Dyson’s lively, if deeply strange, narrative is that the intelligence of tomorrow will not be human alone but will be shared with machines and nature (plants and animals and microbes and such) in time to come, fulfilling Leibniz’s dream.

A thoughtful—and most thought-provoking—exploration of where our inventions have taken and will take us. (32 pages of b/w illustrations; 15 b/w chapter-opening illustrations)

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-10486-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.


Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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A straightforward, carefully detailed presentation of how ``fruit comes from flowers,'' from winter's snow-covered buds through pollination and growth to ripening and harvest. Like the text, the illustrations are admirably clear and attractive, including the larger-than-life depiction of the parts of the flower at different stages. An excellent contribution to the solidly useful ``Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science'' series. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 1992

ISBN: 0-06-020055-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1991

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