An eminently readable cautionary tale about technology that once again questions what—or who—the product really is.

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THE INSIDE STORY OF INSTAGRAM

The story of the supercharged rise and inevitable distortion of one of the world’s most wide-ranging and influential social media platforms.

As a technology reporter for Bloomberg News, Frier has covered social media for years, so she is well positioned to chronicle the founding and subsequent evolution of Instagram, the ubiquitous photo- and video-sharing service. Long before the site became the darling of celebrities and socialites (e.g. Paris Hilton), the invention was the brainchild of Stanford graduates Kevin Systrom, who parlayed his personal interest in photography into an early version of the app called Burbn, and levelheaded engineer Mike Krieger. Readers looking for the power dynamics and interpersonal drama that fuel many Silicon Valley sagas will find them here, though Frier’s compelling narrative style is more journalistic than soapy. Still, the book does contain friction, notably between Instagram and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who purchased it in 2012 for $1 billion, as well as the long-simmering feud between Zuckerberg and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey. The cast of characters is daunting, but it’s rewarding to see the platform’s innovations emerge, largely driven by the passion of its internal evangelists. It’s also disappointing—but not necessarily surprising given revelations about Facebook in recent years—to watch as Instagram employees fail to receive their expected rewards from the acquisition. Facebook slowly but purposefully turned a creation aimed at social artistry and communality into yet another advertising platform with the secondary purpose of funneling users toward the mothership. The author entertainingly portrays the clash between company values as well as the rise of Instagram’s bizarre celebrity culture, with cameos from the likes of Ashton Kutcher and Kim Kardashian West (who receives “about $1 million for a single post”)—not to mention the horde eventually known as “influencers.”

An eminently readable cautionary tale about technology that once again questions what—or who—the product really is.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-2680-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both...

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SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS

Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (General Relativity: The Most Beautiful of Theories, 2015, etc.) shares his thoughts on the broader scientific and philosophical implications of the great revolution that has taken place over the past century.

These seven lessons, which first appeared as articles in the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Sole 24 Ore, are addressed to readers with little knowledge of physics. In less than 100 pages, the author, who teaches physics in both France and the United States, cogently covers the great accomplishments of the past and the open questions still baffling physicists today. In the first lesson, he focuses on Einstein's theory of general relativity. He describes Einstein's recognition that gravity "is not diffused through space [but] is that space itself" as "a stroke of pure genius." In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with the puzzling features of quantum physics that challenge our picture of reality. In the remaining sections, the author introduces the constant fluctuations of atoms, the granular nature of space, and more. "It is hardly surprising that there are more things in heaven and earth, dear reader, than have been dreamed of in our philosophy—or in our physics,” he writes. Rovelli also discusses the issues raised in loop quantum gravity, a theory that he co-developed. These issues lead to his extraordinary claim that the passage of time is not fundamental but rather derived from the granular nature of space. The author suggests that there have been two separate pathways throughout human history: mythology and the accumulation of knowledge through observation. He believes that scientists today share the same curiosity about nature exhibited by early man.

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18441-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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