by George Dyson ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 18, 2020
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
Page Count: 304
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online: April 20, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020
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by Walter Isaacson ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 12, 2023
Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.
Awards & Accolades
New York Times Bestseller
A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.
To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.
Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023
Page Count: 688
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023
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by Matthew Desmond ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 21, 2023
A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.
A thoughtful program for eradicating poverty from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted.
“America’s poverty is not for lack of resources,” writes Desmond. “We lack something else.” That something else is compassion, in part, but it’s also the lack of a social system that insists that everyone pull their weight—and that includes the corporations and wealthy individuals who, the IRS estimates, get away without paying upward of $1 trillion per year. Desmond, who grew up in modest circumstances and suffered poverty in young adulthood, points to the deleterious effects of being poor—among countless others, the precarity of health care and housing (with no meaningful controls on rent), lack of transportation, the constant threat of losing one’s job due to illness, and the need to care for dependent children. It does not help, Desmond adds, that so few working people are represented by unions or that Black Americans, even those who have followed the “three rules” (graduate from high school, get a full-time job, wait until marriage to have children), are far likelier to be poor than their White compatriots. Furthermore, so many full-time jobs are being recast as contracted, fire-at-will gigs, “not a break from the norm as much as an extension of it, a continuation of corporations finding new ways to limit their obligations to workers.” By Desmond’s reckoning, besides amending these conditions, it would not take a miracle to eliminate poverty: about $177 billion, which would help end hunger and homelessness and “make immense headway in driving down the many agonizing correlates of poverty, like violence, sickness, and despair.” These are matters requiring systemic reform, which will in turn require Americans to elect officials who will enact that reform. And all of us, the author urges, must become “poverty abolitionists…refusing to live as unwitting enemies of the poor.” Fortune 500 CEOs won’t like Desmond’s message for rewriting the social contract—which is precisely the point.A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.
Pub Date: March 21, 2023
Page Count: 288
Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2022
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023
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