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PROOF OF STAKE

THE MAKING OF ETHEREUM AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF BLOCKCHAINS

Numerate computer whizzes are the key audience, but there’s something for lesser mortals on most pages.

A wonky excursion into the world of cryptocurrency and computer-generated governance.

Bitcoin uses an elaborate set of algorithms to provide “proof of work,” showing that a computer has been active in its role of “mining” digital coinage. Ethereum, founded by Buterin (b. 1994), aims for “proof of stake”—i.e., that participants in its digital realm demonstrate their legitimacy by virtue of their holdings alone, buying and selling them ethically without trying to game the system. In this collection of writings, mostly blog posts and talks, the famed billionaire who sleeps on other people’s couches takes on heady matters: the nature of the blockchain mechanism that safeguards crypto transactions and that may have broader uses as furthering a “way to pool together our money and support public projects that help create the society we want to see”; the seigniorage aspect of cryptocurrency; the extensibility of crypto techniques to develop decentralized business agreements and contracts. Blockchains, the be-all and end-all in some cryptolibertarian systems, are in Buterin’s eyes merely convenient means to ends, “simply marginally better than the next available tool for the job.” Nevertheless, they have allowed the author to reimagine Ethereum as not just a marketplace, but a platform for social change: more equitable justice provided by a kind of open-source judiciary, a means of decentralizing power to put it into the hands (and keyboards) of ordinary people, not governments or corporations. Buterin is an earnest and decidedly technical writer; it helps to know mathematics, economics, and computer science to follow some of his denser arguments. Yet he has a playful side, too, as when he unveils a game called 1.58-dimensional chess,” so named “because the twenty-seven open squares are chosen according to a pattern based in the Sierpinski triangle.”

Numerate computer whizzes are the key audience, but there’s something for lesser mortals on most pages.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-64421-248-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seven Stories

Review Posted Online: Aug. 10, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2022

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POVERTY, BY AMERICA

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

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A thoughtful program for eradicating poverty from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted.

“America’s poverty is not for lack of resources,” writes Desmond. “We lack something else.” That something else is compassion, in part, but it’s also the lack of a social system that insists that everyone pull their weight—and that includes the corporations and wealthy individuals who, the IRS estimates, get away without paying upward of $1 trillion per year. Desmond, who grew up in modest circumstances and suffered poverty in young adulthood, points to the deleterious effects of being poor—among countless others, the precarity of health care and housing (with no meaningful controls on rent), lack of transportation, the constant threat of losing one’s job due to illness, and the need to care for dependent children. It does not help, Desmond adds, that so few working people are represented by unions or that Black Americans, even those who have followed the “three rules” (graduate from high school, get a full-time job, wait until marriage to have children), are far likelier to be poor than their White compatriots. Furthermore, so many full-time jobs are being recast as contracted, fire-at-will gigs, “not a break from the norm as much as an extension of it, a continuation of corporations finding new ways to limit their obligations to workers.” By Desmond’s reckoning, besides amending these conditions, it would not take a miracle to eliminate poverty: about $177 billion, which would help end hunger and homelessness and “make immense headway in driving down the many agonizing correlates of poverty, like violence, sickness, and despair.” These are matters requiring systemic reform, which will in turn require Americans to elect officials who will enact that reform. And all of us, the author urges, must become “poverty abolitionists…refusing to live as unwitting enemies of the poor.” Fortune 500 CEOs won’t like Desmond’s message for rewriting the social contract—which is precisely the point.

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780593239919

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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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

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