by Rachel O'Dwyer ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 3, 2023
A cautionary, comprehensive look at money and its virtual discontents.
A scholarly investigation of the role of online tokens, which “are both more and less than money.”
O’Dwyer, an Irish lecturer in digital cultures, examines a question that yields complex answers: What is money, and how does it differ from other significations of value? A classic example of the latter are the giant stones of Yap, the Micronesian island, which have been shorthanded as “primitive” money. Not quite so, writes the author: The stones are really “value contracts” that constitute “an invisible ledger held in trust by the Yapese community.” When one fell into the sea while being transported from a neighboring island, all agreed that the stone retained its value as a measure against which to gauge transactions. Consider how blockchain works, and consider how “non-fungible tokens” are given a value that doesn’t align with commonsense economics, and those primitive measures suddenly don’t seem so primitive after all. Today, writes O’Dwyer, tokens “can be used to market insubstantial things—famous people’s farts, virtual kittens, skins in Fortnite—to make ephemeral things solid enough to enter the economy,” whereas money stands for solid things that circulate in proxy, such as the bars of gold tucked away in Fort Knox. Cryptocurrency, the accoutrements players buy in Second Life, NFTs—all are something like money, yet something not like it, too. Whatever they are, O’Dwyer observes, tokens come at great cost—not to the money economy, per se, but instead to the environment. “In 2006,” writes the author, “the average Second Life avatar consumed more electricity than the average Brazilian.” What’s more, she notes, the famous anonymity of cryptocurrency is not the norm in the token world. Where cash can change hands unrecorded, most electronic transactions are so thoroughly tracked that such things as “Venmo stalking” have lately become commonplace.A cautionary, comprehensive look at money and its virtual discontents.
Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2023
Page Count: 320
Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2023
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by Walter Isaacson ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 12, 2023
Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.
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New York Times Bestseller
A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.
To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.
Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023
Page Count: 688
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023
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BOOK TO SCREEN
by Thomas Sowell ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 19, 2023
For those satisfied with blame-the-victim tidbits of received wisdom.
The noted conservative economist delivers arguments both fiscal and political against social justice initiatives such as welfare and a federal minimum wage.
A Black scholar who has lived through many civil rights struggles, Sowell is also a follower of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who insisted that free market solutions are available for every social problem. This short book begins with what amounts to an impatient declaration that life isn’t fair. Some nations are wealthy because of geographical advantages, and some people are wealthy because they’re smarter than others. “Some social justice advocates may implicitly assume that various groups have similar developed capabilities, so that different outcomes appear puzzling,” he writes. In doing so, he argues, they fail to distinguish between equal opportunity and equal capability. Sowell is dismissive of claims that Black Americans and other minorities are systematically denied a level playing field: Put non-white kids in charter schools, he urges, and presto, their math scores will zoom northward as compared to those in public schools. “These are huge disparities within the same groups, so that neither race nor racism can account for these huge differences,” he writes, clearly at pains to distance himself from the faintest suggestion that race has anything to do with success or failure in America. At the same time, he isn’t exactly comfortable with the idea that economic inequalities exist, and he tries to finesse definitions to suit his convictions: “The terms ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ are misleading in another and more fundamental sense. These terms apply to people’s stock of wealth, not their flows of income.” As for crime? Give criminals more rights, he asserts, as with Miranda v. Arizona, and crime rates go up—an assertion that overlooks numerous other variables but fits Sowell’s ideological slant.For those satisfied with blame-the-victim tidbits of received wisdom.
Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2023
Page Count: 224
Publisher: Basic Books
Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2023
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