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WORM

THE FIRST DIGITAL WORLD WAR

A brief, punchy reminder of our high-tech vulnerabilities.

From the author of Black Hawk Down, a different sort of blood-and-thunder heroism narrative, out on the frontiers of cybercrime.

Journalist Bowden (The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL, 2008, etc.) enthusiastically explains that world commerce faces serious threats from malware, especially “botnets,” networked computers with a customized hidden infection that can be triggered by the malware programmer for any number of vicious effects. The largest such threat to date became known as Conficker when it surfaced abruptly in 2008. Much of Bowden’s narrative documents the work of a disparate, volunteer group of early Internet pioneers, ex-hackers and driven cyber-security professionals who came together, mostly online, to form the Conficker Working Group or (its preferred name) The Cabal. Initially, the group felt confident in their collective, improvised efforts to minimize the worm’s ability to infect individual computers and form a botnet; they were thus increasingly alarmed when Conficker was twice upgraded in sophistication by its mysterious programmers. Worse, their attempts to alert federal authorities were met with comical paranoia and ineptitude. Since Conficker functioned by randomly infecting large quantities of domain names, it was particularly difficult to counteract; yet, after much tension, the activation date for the botnet came and went to no apparent effect. Bowden notes that “the prospect of nothing happening...had actually become the prevailing theory of The Cabal itself." Still, Cabal members and Bowden both insist that the danger was not overstated. The author concludes that Conficker proves that “carefully tailored targeted attacks” are the wave of the future, using as an example the Stuxnet worm that attacked Iranian nuclear-production facilities. Bowden is a sharp, funny writer who can convey a complex narrative in crisp terms, but due to the subject matter, this remains an airy and less-engaging book than his best-known works.

A brief, punchy reminder of our high-tech vulnerabilities.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1983-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

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

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