This would have been a deeper book if it were a conventional biography of David Sarnoff (1891-1971), “the man who had sailed...




The past envisions the future in a short book that spans a century of revolutions in communications.

This would have been a deeper book if it were a conventional biography of David Sarnoff (1891-1971), “the man who had sailed into New York Harbor as a nine year old boy and gone on to foresee every major communications advance from the wireless telegraph to satellites—and fought to bring them all to the general public.” It often seems like an account of a relationship and a rift between the empire-building RCA tycoon and Edwin Armstrong (1890-1954), “the most prolific inventor since Thomas Edison,” whose advances were crucial to Sarnoff’s vision yet whose path diverged when he saw Sarnoff focusing on TV and perhaps impeding the progress of the FM radio advances that Armstrong championed. Woolley begins with the suicide of Armstrong, who felt betrayed by Sarnoff, and circles back to his death about two-thirds of the way through, leaving the stage to Sarnoff alone. Drawing from court transcripts, the account of the rift between the former friends has the dramatic tension and narrative propulsion of a historical novel, yet an oddly structured one once Armstrong is gone. What the author dubs “Act III” is the most revelatory, as it shows Sarnoff extending his vision from radio to TV to the computer age. In his discussion of sources, Woolley concludes, “David Sarnoff’s remarkable speech predicting the rise of fiber optics and the Internet was made in 1965, but has been ignored until now.” As the telegraph gave way to radio, then to TV and the Internet, the book shows how Sarnoff continued to embody the lessons he learned from Marconi in the telegraph age: “When wagering on the future of a new wireless technology, always bet on the optimists—eventually they’re going to be right.” Armstrong was one of those optimists, until he became a casualty.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-224275-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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


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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