More Adorno than Negroponte but of interest to students of contemporary first-world culture.



Is Airbnb the beginning of our end? Perhaps not, but, as this elegant meditation explores, it’s just one more sign of our sterile, disembodied times.

British social critic Scott’s (English and Creative Writing/Arcadia Univ.) essay on the disembodiment and dislocation that come with technology has promise, at first, of being a kind of manifesto of the sort Jaron Lanier might issue, but it soon settles into a coolly McLuhan-esque treatise, rich in reference to the likes of Virginia Woolf and Walter Benjamin, on our dematerialized condition. Whereas Lanier, for instance, might take an alarmed view of the political implications of a world in which “the moments of our lives audition for digitization,” Scott is more inclined to the existential and philosophical: we are both anonymous and exhaustively identified, seen and unseen, physical and virtual, isolated and connected, and, thanks to social media, everywhere at once. It is this last truth that lends credence to Scott’s fruitful notion that we are all suddenly four-dimensional beings who can escape the ordinary laws of physics that bound us to time and place: “Where do our bodies begin and end in a networked world?” The answer is a little scary: at least the images that Scott conjures of the 1950s sci-fi denizen known as 4D Man suggest that our newfound “ability to slip through solid objects” may not be altogether a good thing. On the other hand, it may not be bad, either. As Scott writes, the novelist A.S. Byatt has observed that even though modern passers-by seem to have their eyeballs glued to their phones, “overall they seem happier than strangers did in her earlier years.” Happier, perhaps, but certainly more tired, endlessly working to serve our technology. And more alike as well: Scott quotes Zadie Smith as noting that social media “can enforce uniformity,” shouting us down into a kind of digital sameness that, he adds, “inevitably entails a constricting of personality.”

More Adorno than Negroponte but of interest to students of contemporary first-world culture.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-35307-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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