A sharp, thoughtful, sometimes-surprising account of how we build trust with strangers now.

WHO CAN YOU TRUST?

HOW TECHNOLOGY BROUGHT US TOGETHER AND WHY IT MIGHT DRIVE US APART

How technology is changing our attitudes toward trust.

At a time when trust in institutions—Congress, the church, the media, etc.—is in great jeopardy, another form of trust is quickly becoming the glue that keeps society together. It is called distributed trust, and it involves “people trusting other people through technology,” writes business consultant Botsman (co-author: What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, 2010). Later in the book, she continues, “the rise of multi-billion-dollar companies such as Airbnb and Uber, whose success depends on trust between strangers, is a clear illustration of how trust can now travel through networks and marketplaces.” In an absorbing, story-filled narrative that will leave readers with a new understanding of the phenomenon that drives life in our digital age, the author makes clear that distributed trust—a “confident relationship with the unknown”—now powers such disparate enterprises as Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites; social media platforms; peer-to-peer lending; online education courses; and Wikipedia and other information-sharing sites. In the case of self-driving cars, we now trust “our very lives to the unseen hand of technology.” Examining trust and its various types (local, institutional, distributed), Botsman explains that we have been making “trust leaps” of one kind or another for centuries; a current example is entering credit card details into an internet site for the first time. She details the mechanisms that encourage the popularity of these transactions and the stories behind the success of such companies as Jack Ma’s Alibaba, where 80 percent of all goods are bought and sold online in China, whose people demand proof of trustworthiness. Other sections cover trust and money, the risk of overtrusting robots, and the importance of reputation on the darknet. As the author notes, trust is “society’s most precious and fragile asset,” and we should all take a “trust pause” before deciding who to put faith in.

A sharp, thoughtful, sometimes-surprising account of how we build trust with strangers now.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5417-7367-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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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 quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

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. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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