A welcome, well-conceived contribution to the history of technology.



Creative destruction meets destructive creation in this economic-historical study of the Internet and its privatization.

The libertarian dream may be to privatize all government services, but that ignores the fact that in many instances, it is government funding that underlies the invention of useful technologies—home-scaled air conditioners, for instance, or aluminum cookware. Greenstein (Chair, Information Technology/Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern Univ.; co-editor: Economic Analysis of the Digital Economy, 2015, etc.) distinguishes invention from innovation as separate processes, innovation, as he writes, being “the act of turning invention into something useful.” It was government initiative that brought a network of computers into being, a mix of private and public innovation that made it into the Internet, thanks in part to the work of government engineer Stephen Wolff, who “made an educated guess that the costs for universities and researchers could be lower if private providers supplied services” that helped the backbone network talk to individual machines, sharing the infrastructure among potentially innumerable constituents. Greenstein concentrates on the 1990s, looking closely at such issues as the browser wars—he concludes that Bill Gates was right to worry about the rise of non-Microsoft Internet gateways—and the origins of the dot-com bubble at the end of the decade. Though he conveys much information through the vehicle of carefully developed case studies on matters such as the divestiture of AT&T and its relationship to the birth of the Internet and the role of federal funding of the research that would give rise to Google, the author is a resolutely academic writer (“accommodating heterogeneous deployment overlapped with the economic benefit” is a characteristic formulation); it helps to have some background in both communications and economics to fully appreciate his arguments. General readers will prefer books such as John Markoff’s What the Dormouse Said (2005) and Stephen Levy’s Hackers (1985), though Greenstein notes that his focus—on innovation, not invention—is different from theirs.

A welcome, well-conceived contribution to the history of technology.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-691-16736-7

Page Count: 504

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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 declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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