A familiar argument but with interesting twists and a rosier forecast than many other books of social/technological...



A well-paced consideration of the effects of technology on lives made ever busier by it—and whipping by in a whirlwind as a result.

Consider the younger cohort of the millennials, who have grown up digital, date online, buy online, and live online. They are likely to become “fragile, narcissistic young adults,” disconnected to others and disaffected overall. Or are they? By another gauge, these digerati are “less materialistic than their parents, more socially liberal, completely at ease with modernity.” Which view of them is correct? Both, writes U.K. columnist and commentator Colvile: technology enables both anomie and activism. One thing is certain, however. Among the social effects of this technology are the increasing fragmentation of time and the sense that there’s never enough of it, wherefore we attempt to juggle too much, even though, “hummingbird mentality” notwithstanding, we know that multitasking is a fraud. There’s little new in the author’s description of the modern scene and plenty of the we’ve-heard-it-before variety. James Gleick got to the heart of the argument 17 years ago in Faster. Where Colvile’s account is useful is in documenting what has happened in the years since in terms of our mores and expectations. Most of the British author’s examples come from Wales, Scotland, and the files of David Cameron; when he writes of our material desires, he includes among them the ability to get “fruit and veg” in every season. The prescriptive part of the program gets a little fuzzy: technology can be destructive, sure, but if it accelerates to the point that it can solve climate change, then it will be good, right? Generally optimistic, Colvile closes with the hedged observation that it will take far-seeing, imaginative leaders to be sure that “techno-Utopia for the few does not become dystopia for the many.”

A familiar argument but with interesting twists and a rosier forecast than many other books of social/technological criticism.

Pub Date: May 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4088-4007-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2016

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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


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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