A sometimes-engaging but overlong and self-congratulatory set of writings.


In this collection of essays, Wolfram (How to Teach Computational Thinking, 2018, etc.), the founder and CEO of software company Wolfram Research, recounts some of his more interesting endeavors in the world of computing

When you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and as Wolfram tells it, when you’re a computing expert, everything looks like a computing problem: “Whether I’m thinking about science, or technology, or philosophy, or art,” he writes in his preface, “the computational paradigm provides both an overall framework and specific facts that inform my thinking.” Sometimes the problem really is a computing-related one, as when Wolfram was asked to help in the creation of realistic screen displays for the 2016 sci-fi film Arrival. At other times, the problem is harder to address, as when a friend asked him for help on a project to manufacture quartz discs that would be left in various locations around the solar system to communicate with aliens; this required figuring out how one would talk with beings without a shared cultural context. Over the course of the book, the author shows how his computing knowledge helped him solve myriad puzzles, whether it was figuring out whether computers can make music as good as humans’, or what to call a mathematical language of the his own invention (he landed, not so creatively, on “Wolfram Language”). The author’s prose is deliberative and accessible, and readers will often feel as if they’re sitting through a lecture by an experienced and enthusiastic professor: “What is a rhombic hexecontahedron? It’s called a ‘hexecontahedron’ because it has 60 faces, and ἑξηκοντα (hexeconta) is the Greek word for 60. (Yes, the correct spelling is with an ‘e’, not an ‘a’.)” But although some of the essays are compelling, others are less so; many of the latter seem to have originated as posts on Wolfram’s corporate blog. Specifically, there’s an unmistakable trend of self-promotion throughout the book, with Wolfram frequently bringing up his own company’s innovations and products. As a result, he starts to seem less like a curious explorer and more like a salesman.

A sometimes-engaging but overlong and self-congratulatory set of writings.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-57955-026-4

Page Count: 421

Publisher: Wolfram Media

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2019

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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