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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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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