INSANELY GREAT

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MACINTOSH, THE COMPUTER THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING

A breezy, anecdotal, yet discerning history of the people, ideas, and technology that led to the user-friendliness of the Macintosh computer. Levy (Artificial Life, 1992, etc.) is among our best interpreters of computer technology (he speaks fluent geek). Here, however, his overbearing passion for the Macintosh keeps this from being a first-class treatment; though he recounts Apple's wrong turns and the widespread criticisms of Steve Jobs, his report lacks the rigor of Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine or even of his own Hackers (1984). Moreover, there are surprising gaps here: The early days of home-computing are limned only briefly, as are Apple's beginnings. But in tracing the evolution of how humans conceive of, and relate to, information in cyberspace, the author has done his research. From a 1945 essay by Vannevar Bush describing a ``memex''—a sort of desk/cockpit with monitors for ``piloting'' one's way through information—that inspired Douglas Engelbart to invent the desktop metaphor and the now-ubiquitous mouse, Levy takes us to the golden age of Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (``Nerds now think of it as Camelot''). There, although Xerox overlooked the invention of the personal computer, Allan Kay wrote SmallTalk— the simple operating system that would one day be embodied in the Mac—and conceived of the ``DynaBook,'' the inspiration for Apple's PowerBook and considered ever since the Grail of computer designs. As the creation of the Mac looms, Levy focuses on the personal contributions and internal politics of those working at Apple; on software offerings like PageMaker, which revolutionized desktop publishing; and the last step in evolving the Mac as we know it: Bill Atkinson's HyperCard, the program that changed the way computer-users think about information. Everything you never realized you wanted to know about the Mac, by a very smart, infectiously enthusiastic partisan.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-670-85244-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1993

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Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to...

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CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.

Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the “rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy,” in Piketty’s gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author’s reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the “high inequality” camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the “supermanagers” of business rather than the “superstars” of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author’s data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-43000-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

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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