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EMPIRE OF THE SUM

THE RISE AND REIGN OF THE POCKET CALCULATOR

An entertaining, informative story about a technology that defined an era.

The success of the pocket calculator relied on operational simplicity, but it involved a complex process of false starts, slow advances, and ingenious thinking.

Houston is a writer with a taste for the esoteric, as he showed in his book about punctuation, Shady Characters. In his latest, he charts the development of the pocket calculator, delivering a fascinating, witty tale. The human search for reliable ways of counting has been long and circuitous, ranging from notches on bones to the abacus to clunky mechanical machines. Houston has a good time hunting down some of the attempts of the 19th century; most of them did not work very well, but they laid the groundwork for later improvements. War and navigation were the key drivers in the search for arithmetic accuracy, and the author introduces us to a cast of colorful characters along the way. He takes a variety of fun detours, such as a discourse on the history of pockets and a discussion of the Curta, a hand-held calculating device of gears and wheels. Slide rules became essential tools for the numerically minded, and the development of crank-operated accounting machines was a huge step forward. But the real genesis of the pocket calculator came with the Casio line, which switched the focus from mechanics to electronics. The next major improvement was the addition of built-in formulae and logarithmic tools, which turned arithmetic into math. Houston unpacks the breakthrough products, including the Hewlett-Packard HP-35 and the Texas Instruments TI-81. He believes that the heyday of the pocket calculator was the 1980s and ’90s. After that, cellphones and laptops became unbeatable competition. However, the fact that these digital advances integrated calculators into their operations meant that the idea lived on, albeit in another form. “The calculator is dead; long live the calculator,” he concludes.

An entertaining, informative story about a technology that defined an era.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2023

ISBN: 9780393882148

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 19, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2023

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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