There’s lots to ponder in Cox’s geekily entertaining exploration of how we acquire our voices and understand those of others.

READ REVIEW

NOW YOU'RE TALKING

HUMAN CONVERSATION FROM THE NEANDERTHALS TO ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

A lucid look at the science behind human communication.

Consider a smartly constructed computer that read every book in the world. Even if it did, writes Cox (Acoustic Engineering/Univ. of Salford; The Sound Book: The Science of the Sonic Wonders of the World, 2014), “its knowledge would be incomplete,” for the computer would lack a world of cultural context. It would probably not be able to understand most allusions, would certainly not be able to fill in the blanks of the things that human storytellers leave out of their tales, might not parse plays on words, and so forth. That we human speakers and listeners are able to do all these things points to the phenomenal amount of brainpower that underlies communication. The author examines the evolution of the human vocal tract, noting that standing upright lengthened it to produce a great variety of sounds—and adding that there are distinct differences in the pronunciation of short and tall people in pronouncing words such as bit/bet because of vocal tract length, differences that we adjust for without knowing that we’re doing so: “the listener subconsciously estimates how long the vocal tract of the speaker is.” Just so, speech impediments such as hesitation or stuttering speak to a huge amount of neural processing and misprocessing as well as the implication of genetics, such as the mutation of “FOXP2 on chromosome 7,” in making pronunciation difficult for one unfortunate British family. Neural processing, too, makes it possible for us to judge the “authenticity” of a speaker who is reporting some emotion—an authenticity that is too often faked, whether by a politician or a skilled actor. The greatest takeaway from the book is the welcome thought that our best moments as human communicators are in ordinary conversations, “quotidian activity that allows knowledge about how to survive and thrive to be passed between us.”

There’s lots to ponder in Cox’s geekily entertaining exploration of how we acquire our voices and understand those of others.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-64009-079-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

more