A fascinating history of humankind as a consumer of energy.

WORK

A DEEP HISTORY, FROM THE STONE AGE TO THE AGE OF ROBOTS

An essential feature of our lives receives an ingenious analysis.

All living organisms expend energy (i.e., work), but humans have transformed this with spectacular creativity that began with stone tools and led to cities, nations, and networks of energy-hungry machines. Anthropologists specialize in describing this process, and Suzman delivers a delightful account of their findings without ignoring the occasions when colleagues missed the boat. For more than 1 million years, our ancestors’ major tool was a crude, difficult-to-manipulate chipped-rock hand ax. Gathering food undoubtedly required its use, but that was also a laborious process. Gorillas eat 15% of their body weight per day and spend half their waking hours foraging; human today eat 2% to 3% thanks to fire, man’s greatest labor-saving invention. Cooking vastly concentrates food energy, so evolution shrank our jaws, teeth, and guts and grew our brains. Experts once taught that hunter-gatherers led exhausting lives on the edge of starvation. Then studies revealed that they didn’t work hard and ate better than cultures that followed. Once agriculture developed, work became grueling but produced quantities of poorer quality food that supported cities, cultures, governments, and innumerable trades. Animals provided almost all human nonfood energy until the 18th century, when the Industrial Revolution produced an explosion of power for industry and transportation. In the early 19th century, electricity transformed domestic life. The 20th-century computer revolution assumed much of human brain work, and 21st-century artificial intelligence has upset many observers who conclude “that not only were robots already queuing at the factory gates but that they had fixed their beady little robot-eyes on nearly half of all existing jobs.” Ironically, as Suzman demonstrates near the end of this educative and entertaining book, this energy bonanza has not led to the life of leisure that futurists predicted. In the U.S., working hours have actually increased, and technology’s profits mostly enrich a small minority who already enjoy a high income.

A fascinating history of humankind as a consumer of energy.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-56175-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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