A useful, data-rich analysis of how we use social media—and how it uses us.



The head of MIT’s Social Analytics lab warns that Facebook and other social media titans are controlling our behavior—and that breaking up the behemoths won’t solve the problem.

In 2018, Aral and two colleagues made headlines when they published a study that found that lies travel faster than truth online. Such attention-grabbing facts abound in this survey of what the author calls “the Hype Machine,” or “the real-time communications ecosystem created by social media,” and how it is changing behavior. As the author shows how social networks use “psychological, economic, and technical hooks” to lock in and manipulate people, he makes some points covered in books such as Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget. Aral also includes a fair amount of material that will hold interest mainly for marketers or other professional persuaders—e.g., “Digital ads don’t work nearly as well as they’re advertised.” The author shines, however, when he validates or challenges many popular beliefs about social media. Anyone who fears that Russia might use Facebook to disrupt the 2020 presidential election, he suggests, is right to do so—but they should also worry about China and Iran. Anyone who cheered Twitter’s decision to label fake-news tweets should consider two facts: Such labels can also cause readers to distrust true news and create an “implied truth effect” that leads readers to believe that anything not labeled false is true. For all this, Aral argues that leviathans like Facebook don’t need to be broken up but could be reined in by laws that, for example, would increase data portability and allow people to take data shared online to other networks just as they can take their phone numbers to new carriers. Ardent trust-busters may disagree, but Aral’s arguments are clear and stimulating, and as the presidential election nears, the book could hardly be timelier.

A useful, data-rich analysis of how we use social media—and how it uses us.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-57451-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Currency

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A straightforward, carefully detailed presentation of how ``fruit comes from flowers,'' from winter's snow-covered buds through pollination and growth to ripening and harvest. Like the text, the illustrations are admirably clear and attractive, including the larger-than-life depiction of the parts of the flower at different stages. An excellent contribution to the solidly useful ``Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science'' series. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 1992

ISBN: 0-06-020055-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1991

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An enthusiastic appreciation of a spectacular astrophysical entity.


A short, lively account of one of the oddest and most intriguing topics in astrophysics.

Levin, a Guggenheim fellow and professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College, knows her subject well, but her goal is appreciation as much as education, and there is much to admire in a black hole. Before Einstein, writes the author, scientists believed that the force of gravity influenced the speed of moving objects. They also knew that light always travels at exactly the speed of light. This combination made no sense until 1915, when Einstein explained that gravity is not a force but a curving of space (really, space-time) near a body of matter. The more massive the matter, the greater it curves the space in its vicinity; other bodies that approach appear to bend or change speed when they are merely moving forward through distorted space-time. Einstein’s equations indicated that, above a certain mass, space-time would curve enough to double back on itself and disappear, but this was considered a mathematical curiosity until the 1960s, when objects that did just that began turning up: black holes. Light cannot emerge from a black hole, but it is not invisible. Large holes attract crowds of orbiting stars whose density produces frictional heating and intense radiation. No writer, Levin included, can contain their fascination with the event horizon, the boundary of the black hole where space-time doubles back. Nothing inside the event horizon, matter or radiation, can leave, and anything that enters is lost forever. Time slows near the horizon and then stops. The author’s discussions of the science behind her subject will enlighten those who have read similar books, perhaps the best being Marcia Bartusiak’s Black Hole (2015). Readers coming to black holes for the first time will share Levin’s wonder but may struggle with some of her explanations.

An enthusiastic appreciation of a spectacular astrophysical entity.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65822-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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