Technology writing with flair looking to a future that’s fast upon us, with China playing a leading role.

BLOCKCHAIN CHICKEN FARM

AND OTHER STORIES OF TECH IN CHINA'S COUNTRYSIDE

Engaging travels through a Chinese countryside in which high technology meets the old ways.

In this entry in the publisher’s new FSGO x Logic series, Wang, the creative director at Logic magazine, blends studies of agriculture, anthropology, tech, and digital art. The author opens with a modest protest that while it is easy to both romanticize and overlook the countryside, and especially Chinese farm villages, “many of them are sites of economies and agricultural practices that are foundational to our world.” China is now subject to the same market forces and consumer preferences as Western nations, so that everyone wants nice things such as high-quality organic food. That opens many doors to rural enterprises. As one entrepreneur observes, whereas big corporations such as Nabisco dominated the food world in the past, “hundreds of smaller, fragmented companies will dominate the future, catering to a continuum of different tastes and experiences.” One of the author’s recurrent themes is the use of technology to improve agricultural production, as with the farm of the title, which caters to “upper-class urbanites—people willing to pay a premium on food.” Along the way, Wang takes on science historian Joseph Needham’s famous observation that China ceased to innovate well before Western traders arrived. The author distinguishes innovation from adaptation to show that there is not only plenty of “disruptive innovation” occurring in China, but also an emerging “shanzhai economy instead of an innovation economy.” In this case, shanzhai suggests the process of retooling outside products—an iPhone, say—to make affordable things for a less affluent local market and, in the bargain, “decolonize technology.” Wang’s whirlwind discussion, smart and well argued, turns to many other topics as well, from racism in high tech to microlending, trade wars, risk tolerance, and a rapidly changing rural China, with delicious recipes as a lagniappe.

Technology writing with flair looking to a future that’s fast upon us, with China playing a leading role.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-53866-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

THE WAR ON THE WEST

A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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