by Theodore Modis ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1992
The art of curve-fitting is elevated to high science in this curious collection of data compiled by a physicist/management- science-consultant living in Geneva. Modis acknowledges a major debt to mentors at the International Institute of Advanced Systems Analysis near Vienna, one Cesare Marchetti in particular. The basic theory applies the concept of invariants—constants over time—with growth curves describing how animal species fill an ecological niche in the face of competition for limited resources. Equations of this type were described 50 years ago; it was Marchetti's notion to apply them to nonbiological phenomena, such as discoveries and inventions, energy sources, and much human activity, from a composer's productivity to the spread of disease. The two basic curves involved are the bell- shaped normal distribution curve and the slanty S-shaped curve that represents cumulative growth over time. The latter starts out almost flat, rises diagonally, and then ceilings-out in another almost flat line. Does the theory work? Maybe, in some cases. Especially if you buy the kind of number-crunching and plot-fitting that Modis and his mentors swear by. So the book tells us that humans universally are happy with 70 minutes of travel time a day; that motor-vehicle deaths have occurred at the rate of 24 per 100,000 for the past 65 years; that energy-source competition and substitution evolves naturally, no matter what governments do or do not do, and so on. Capping all this predictive optimism about optimization and natural evolution are...are you ready for it? Cycles: 56-year intervals that describe economic cycles of boom or bust, innovation or saturation (and that also match eclipse- phenomena and sunspots and holes at Stonehenge). You could argue that there is a lot of selectivity in the data adduced, a blurring of time periods, a discounting of chaos and chance, and some pretty wild notions about human behavior. And you would be right.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1992
Page Count: 288
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1992
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by Ta-Nehisi Coates ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 8, 2015
This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”
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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.
Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”
Pub Date: July 8, 2015
Page Count: 176
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015
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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
Page Count: 432
Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019
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