The world of data as illuminated here would have scared George Orwell.

EXPLODING DATA

RECLAIMING OUR CYBER SECURITY IN THE DIGITAL AGE

The former Secretary of Homeland Security surveys the brave new world of data collection and analysis and finds that both the legal system and international relations have yet to keep pace with technology.

Chertoff (Homeland Security: Assessing the First Five Years, 2009), who has also served as a judge and a prosecutor, contrasts the present day with earlier eras when there was more of a strong distinction between public and private. An invasion of privacy once meant encroaching on one’s property, but technology has dissolved any expectation of privacy or even a sense of who is doing the encroaching and what is being encroached upon. We share our information freely despite the consequences, we depend on smartphones that track us everywhere and lack adequate safeguards, and we invite devices into our homes to monitor our preferences and activities. In an era of facial-recognition software, laws reflect the days when surveillance was by camera (before every phone had one) or phone tapping (on landlines). “When technology has dramatically expanded the ability to monitor activities in a previously unrecognizable way, we need a new set of laws,” writes the author, whose current company offers security consulting. He continues, “Inevitably, this will require tradeoffs between different values: privacy, autonomy, security, and the individual versus the collective interest.” Chertoff shows how such an initiative is necessary as well as extremely challenging, as the internet transcends borders of nations that have very different attitudes toward individual rights and as the process involves different stages of collecting and analyzing data, by governments and commercial concerns alike. Though the writing rarely rises above workmanlike, the author’s experience in these areas runs deep, and he shows reasons for concern in areas many readers might not have considered. “We frequently trade away our data for a short-term convenience or lower-cost gratification without realizing the long-term consequences,” he warns—until our insurance companies start monitoring our grocery purchases and restaurant preferences to determine how healthy our diets are.

The world of data as illuminated here would have scared George Orwell.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2793-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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