It’s impossible to say whether the social side of Buchanan’s fatalistic thesis will prove elaborately wrong, though he...




Buchanan, a writer for Nature and a theoretical physicist, summarizes the law of universality, a sweeping concept that is very much a work in progress.

The frequency of observable physical phenomena such as earthquakes and forest fires may also describe the frequency of wars and stock-market crashes, an astounding proposition on the face of it. To make his case, Buchanan first draws from Bak, Tang, and Weisenfeld’s computer modeling of a sandpile, where grains of sand are dropped one at a time until “avalanches” result. The sandpile at last reaches a state of “self-organized criticality,” in which an avalanche is always possible. But even though there are many more small avalanches than large ones, large and small avalanches are always possible, and can happen anywhere in the mass that is in a critical state. The model explains why earthquakes are impossible to predict, since faultlines are always in a critical state; or why forest fires can break out anywhere in the at-risk area, and can be small and containable, or large and beyond control, like the Yellowstone fire of 1988. Buchanan’s speculations on human events seem dicier, though fascinating. The first world war, for instance, broke out when the countries of Europe were in self-organized criticality. War might have begun when an army invaded another country; instead, a major avalanche resulted when King Archibald Ferdinand’s chauffeur turned up a wrong street and ran into an assassin. Anything could have started the war, in other words. In a corollary argument, Buchanan contemptuously dismisses the “great man” theory of history, whereby Einstein or Churchill make all the difference, instead arguing that great men are, in effect, catalysts of the critical mass. Cautionary but entertaining, Buchanan extends his thesis to fluctuations of the stock market, the migrations of peoples, and even the advance of science itself.

It’s impossible to say whether the social side of Buchanan’s fatalistic thesis will prove elaborately wrong, though he argues it with fervor and elegance.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60810-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2001

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This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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