A disappointingly superficial book about a number of fascinating subjects.

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PRESENT AT THE FUTURE

FROM EVOLUTION TO NANOTECHNOLOGY, CANDID AND CONTROVERSIAL CONVERSATIONS ON SCIENCE AND NATURE

From his vantage point as host of NPR’s popular radio show Science Friday, Flatow (They All Laughed...From Light Bulbs to Lasers: The Fascinating Stories Behind the Great Inventions That Have Changed Our Lives, 1992, etc.) has acquired an impressive overview of current science. Unfortunately, this book fails to go beyond that overview.

The book is divided into 12 chapters: new research on the brain, cosmology, climate change, alternate energies, nanotechnology, space travel, ocean life, the science versus religion controversy, scientific pioneers, the future of cyberspace, new approaches to science and the pros and cons of stem-cell research. By covering such broad terrain, the author sets himself the nearly impossible task of adequately exploring each concept. Lacking footnotes or a bibliography, it may be difficult for readers to seek further reading on any of the included subjects. The book’s strength lies in the author’s balanced coverage of controversial issues, such as the feasibility of switching to biofuels or using nuclear energy as a replacement for gasoline. The high point is Flatow’s discussion of why planes fly, based on NASA researcher Norman Smith’s crusade to substitute Newton’s third law of motion for Bernoulli’s principle. Many of the interviews cover intriguing, cutting-edge material—including a discussion of quantum computers with Seth Lloyd, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, and quantum gravitation with Lee Smolin, a research physicist at the Perimeter Institute. But other parts of the book feel dated, such as the section covering memory and the effects of age on the brain, conducted with Dr. Aaron P. Nelson, chief of neuropsychology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Flatow certainly has a knack for finding the appropriate professionals to discuss each topic, but the resulting narrative will likely confuse newbies and frustrate more knowledgeable readers.

A disappointingly superficial book about a number of fascinating subjects.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-06-073264-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Collins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

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

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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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