A collection that reminds us that critical thinking is the best way to view the mixed blessings of rampant technology. A...

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UTOPIA IS CREEPY

AND OTHER PROVOCATIONS

Popular technology guru Carr (The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, 2014, etc.) offers a skeptical chronicle of the wonders of the digital revolution.

Since 2005, the author has kept running tabs on our high-tech age on his blog Rough Type, where he considers and sometimes eviscerates the latest overblown claims of the gods of Silicon Valley. In this bright, fun, telling book, he gathers 80 engaging blog posts from some 1,600 published through 2015, plus a selection of essays and reviews from the Atlantic and elsewhere. “We may blow kisses to agrarians like Jefferson and tree-huggers like Thoreau, but we put our faith in Edison and Ford, Gates and Zuckerberg,” writes Carr. “It is the technologists who shall lead us.” While tech leaders have promised a new world (with Bill Gates “still pitching a ‘digital lifestyle’ that nobody wants”), the author makes clear his own penchant for “tools for exploring and enjoying the world that is.” He takes strong exception to innumerable claims made for the internet: that it has liberated us from couch-potato lives (“horseshit”), raised us to a higher consciousness, spurred serendipity, and given us splendid gifts in Wikipedia (“a hodge-podge of dubious factoids”) and Twitter (“the medium of Narcissus”). Occasioned by his own observations and a close reading of new studies and books, Carr holds forth on major issues of the past decade, including copyright, innovation, online courses, e-books, video games, artificial intelligence, privacy, online sharing, automation, raising the virtual child, and smartphones. Throughout, his emphasis is on the human side of life in a digitized world. “The desire for privacy is strong; vanity is stronger,” he writes of Facebook’s business model. And: “Who you are is what you do between notifications.” Included are such notable essays as “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Some entries are slight, most others are nuanced and satisfying.

A collection that reminds us that critical thinking is the best way to view the mixed blessings of rampant technology. A treat for Carr fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-25454-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

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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