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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This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK MAN

A former NFL player casts his gimlet eye on American race relations.

In his first book, Acho, an analyst for Fox Sports who grew up in Dallas as the son of Nigerian immigrants, addresses White readers who have sent him questions about Black history and culture. “My childhood,” he writes, “was one big study abroad in white culture—followed by studying abroad in black culture during college and then during my years in the NFL, which I spent on teams with 80-90 percent black players, each of whom had his own experience of being a person of color in America. Now, I’m fluent in both cultures: black and white.” While the author avoids condescending to readers who already acknowledge their White privilege or understand why it’s unacceptable to use the N-word, he’s also attuned to the sensitive nature of the topic. As such, he has created “a place where questions you may have been afraid to ask get answered.” Acho has a deft touch and a historian’s knack for marshaling facts. He packs a lot into his concise narrative, from an incisive historical breakdown of American racial unrest and violence to the ways of cultural appropriation: Your friend respecting and appreciating Black arts and culture? OK. Kim Kardashian showing off her braids and attributing her sense of style to Bo Derek? Not so much. Within larger chapters, the text, which originated with the author’s online video series with the same title, is neatly organized under helpful headings: “Let’s rewind,” “Let’s get uncomfortable,” “Talk it, walk it.” Acho can be funny, but that’s not his goal—nor is he pedaling gotcha zingers or pleas for headlines. The author delivers exactly what he promises in the title, tackling difficult topics with the depth of an engaged cultural thinker and the style of an experienced wordsmith. Throughout, Acho is a friendly guide, seeking to sow understanding even if it means risking just a little discord.

This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-80046-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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