A sturdy, skillfully constructed work of business and technological history.

Looking back on Silicon Valley’s early years, when magic was brewing in the suburbs of the Bay Area.

Steve Jobs may have received most of the narrative oxygen coming out of Silicon Valley for the last quarter-century or so, with Elon Musk a close successor. However, as New York Times technology columnist Berlin (Project Historian/Stanford Univ. Silicon Valley Archives; The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley, 2005, etc.) writes in this vigorous account, the first days were the hardest—and, all in all, involved the most interesting players. At the center of her narrative is Bob Taylor, a sometimes-prickly computer scientist who “kick-started the precursor to the Internet, the Arpanet.” Though employed by Xerox for years, Taylor was committing to breaking “the stranglehold of mainframe computing” and evangelized for the vast possibilities of personal computers. Others picked up on his vision even as Taylor eventually broke with Xerox and early adapters discovered the many difficulties inherent in creating a useful PC. Mike Markkula, for one, worked quietly as Apple chairman to raise the quality and look of its products. “Markkula placed a high priority on first impressions,” writes Berlin, “so high that Jobs would later say that it was Markkula who taught him to do the same.” It’s noteworthy, as the author notes, that Markkula’s departure saw Apple grow increasingly lost in the wilderness throughout much of the 1980s and ’90s. Some of the other visionaries Berlin profiles include Sandra Kurtzig, the pioneering entrepreneur who was the first woman CEO to take a Silicon Valley company public, and Al Alcorn, who masterminded the video game “Pong.” Others earn less space but are no less influential, such as HP president John Young, who predicted in 1980 that Silicon Valley would replace manufacturing with research, thus making it the domain of “highly skilled professionals who can afford to live here”—which, of course, is just how things turned out.

A sturdy, skillfully constructed work of business and technological history.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4516-5150-8

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017


Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019



A quirky wonder of a book.

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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