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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more