Useful reading for investors, inventors, and students of technological history.

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WIRELESS NATION

THE FRENZIED LAUNCH OF THE CELLULAR REVOLUTION

A solid history of a technological gold rush, as narrated by an early prospector.

Murray, a venture capitalist, got in early on the wireless telephone business, which, critics opined, was of use only to rich people and drug dealers. Undeterred, Murray followed his hunch that wireless would appeal to a wider audience. Two developments of the 1970s supported his belief, he writes: the advent of the personal pager, which allowed medical personnel, contractors, salespeople, and other folks on the go (among them, yes, drug dealers) to be reached at all hours; and the popularity of CB radio, which, though dismissed by government communications agencies and phone-company executives as a blue-collar fad, was “a clear indicator that Americans were clamoring to drive and talk on the phone.” Telephone technology being fairly primitive in the early ’80s, when most American households still had rotary phones and little infrastructure for satellite phones was in place, the FCC pooh-poohed wireless as just another far-out scheme; as part of the giveaway of the public domain under the Reagan administration, it relinquished control over much of the radio spectrum, distributing deeds to bandwidth to private individuals by lottery. (This, Murray writes, was but one instance of federal mismanagement of the spectrum through methods “fraught with misguided public policy, political cronyism, and occasional stupidity.”) Most awardees sold their franchises to upstart companies like McCaw and CellNet, most of which were in turn swallowed up by giants like AT&T or driven from the market. Fragmented and uncoordinated, these companies used incompatible equipment and standards, producing the “technology jumble” that hobbles our telecommunications today; whereas a Finn can buy a can of soda and direct-dial Timbuktu from her handy, many Americans can barely get a static-free call from one side of town to the other. Even so, Murray remarks, the wireless phone has been a far greater success than he or any other early trend-spotter could have imagined, and the market will only grow and improve.

Useful reading for investors, inventors, and students of technological history.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7382-0391-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Perseus

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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