Essential reading for digital policymakers—and citizens seeking change in this arena.

FIBER

THE COMING TECH REVOLUTION—AND WHY AMERICA MIGHT MISS IT

The great promise of “cheap, unlimited connectivity” via fiber-optic cables.

In South Korea, Sweden, and many other Asian and northern European countries, enormous amounts of data travel through fiber directly into homes, providing limitless communications capacity. In this comprehensive account, Crawford (Harvard Law School; Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, 2013), a former science and technology adviser for Barack Obama, argues that, lacking fiber-to-the-home connections, most Americans “suffer from totally inadequate, horribly expensive connectivity that cuts whole populations off from opportunity, adequate health care, and a decent education, and thwarts the development of new businesses.” In the United States, fiber connects cities but stops short of entering neighborhoods. Instead, information comes into 84 percent of homes through far more limited copper wire. That is like traveling through a 2-inch-wide pipe as opposed to the 15-mile-wide river afforded by fiber. Drawing on five years of research and interviews in cities from Stockholm to Santa Monica and Chattanooga, Crawford describes how fiber is made, its ability to encode information on pulses of light, and why “very-high-capacity wireless connections—5G—require fiber to run deep into neighborhoods and buildings.” An unabashed booster of fiber to the home, she details the impacts of so-called “last-mile fiber connectivity” (China is installing some 20,000 such connections daily), including greatly improved opportunities for everything from business, learning, and medical care to urban problem-solving. Fiber’s huge broadband capacity makes possible a remarkable, reliable virtual presence. “Fiber plus advanced wireless capability is as central to the next phase of human existence as electricity was a hundred years ago,” writes the author. At present, unregulated cable and phone monopolies control expensive into-the-home connections, with no incentive to upgrade to fiber. If the benefits of fiber connectivity are to reach beyond urban, affluent areas into rural and poor households, it will require local leadership and new federal policies.

Essential reading for digital policymakers—and citizens seeking change in this arena.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-300-22850-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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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