HOW THE WORLD REALLY WORKS

THE SCIENCE BEHIND HOW WE GOT HERE AND WHERE WE’RE GOING

An exceptionally lucid, evenhanded study of the scientific basis of our current and future lives.

A scientific panorama of our well-being and how it can be sustained in our current tumultuous times and beyond.

In seven chapters, Smil, the author of more than 40 books on science, nature, and current affairs, explores the science behind essential contemporary topics: energy generation, food production, material dependence, globalization, large-scale risks, responses to environmental threats, and predictive uncertainty. The author aims to combat the widespread “comprehension deficit” about basic scientific facts, and he seeks to “explain some of the most fundamental ruling realities governing our survival and our prosperity.” That aim is marvelously achieved, as Smil sheds needed light on how global populations depend on particular technologies and industrial processes while debunking common misperceptions. Chief among these is the assumption that large-scale decarbonization is plausible in the near term. As several chapters demonstrate, we will most likely remain dependent on the consumption of massive amounts of fossil fuels for decades to come before alternative energy sources can be scaled to meet global demand. The author provides a revelatory overview of where human health and affluence come from, how they might be preserved in spite of alarming signs of ecological collapse, and which specific disruptions to them, such as those posed by viral pandemics or climate change, are actually most threatening. Throughout, Smil exposes the dubious assumptions of so-called “catastrophism,” the conviction that human life is doomed to extinction in the near future, as well as “techno-optimism,” an equally misplaced faith in the ingenuity of engineers to deliver utopian solutions to all our existential challenges. The author’s sober and illuminating assessment of contemporary realities shows how challenges can, seemingly, be managed in the coming decades even if the precise means of doing so—and the various complications that will inevitably unfold—cannot be reliably ascertained in advance.

An exceptionally lucid, evenhanded study of the scientific basis of our current and future lives.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-29706-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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