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


“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 dynamic critique on the sprawling effects of racism and its effects on today’s youth.


An artful book-length essay on generational trauma in Black youth.

Weaving together prose, poetry, and artwork, prizewinning educator, poet, and cultural advocate Alexander, who recited a poem at Barack Obama’s first inauguration ceremony, depicts in sharp relief the realities of living as a Black youth in today’s America. In this short yet poignant book, the author notes the ways in which Black people have always been marginalized, but she looks specifically at the difficult experiences of those who have come of age in the past 25 years. Citing such problems as depression in youth, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and how police brutality has become more apparent in the age of social media, Alexander paints a vivid portrait of a societal landscape that is fundamentally different depending on race, class, and other demographic markers. While recounting her personal story—including her 15 years as a professor at Yale, which, like many older colleges, has a problematic history with the slave trade—the author roots the text in history, looking at the legacies of enslavement and Confederacy movements and touching on key figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., and Zora Neale Hurston. The text is punctuated with gripping pieces of art that complement the text. Each piece is compelling in its own right as they entwine with the representation of human experience that Alexander demonstrates for readers. In one of the most significant sections, the author references a letter to Du Bois in which a scholar asked him “whether the negro sheds tears,” and “if so, under what general conditions—anger, fear, shame, pain, sorrow, etc.” At its core, this is a powerful treatise on the humanity of Black Americans and how it has been denied, how generations of people have persisted despite that fact, and how it continues to be one of the most pressing issues we face as a nation.

A dynamic critique on the sprawling effects of racism and its effects on today’s youth.

Pub Date: April 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-3789-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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