Ellen Ullman photographed by Marion Etlinger
You don’t have to be a techie to appreciate computer programmer Ellen Ullman’s new book, Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology, which our reviewer calls, in a starred review, “a sharply written, politically charged memoir of life in the data trenches.” Indeed, Ullman, author of the pioneering book Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents (1997), is equally adept probing philosophical and ethical (and even semispiritual) questions as she is the extremely complex data that ...
Photo courtesy Marion Etlinger
A thinking machine, grumbled the tradition-minded British writer G. K. Chesterton, “is a brainless phrase of modern fatalism and materialism.” He added, “A machine only is a machine because it cannot think.”
But that was at the turn of the last century. A dozen decades later, thinking machines are among us, machines that learn from our behavior and suggest that we act on the information they provide—by, say, buying a new pair of shoes recommended by an algorithm ...
Photo courtesy Ellen Warner
Culinary historian Laura Shapiro hungers for the delectable details of people’s lives—no matter their competence in the kitchen.
“I have always felt very strongly that you don’t have to be a food person—that is to say, an instinctive wonderful cook—to have a relationship with food,” says Shapiro, author of What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories. “If you can look at food in someone’s life, you can find out something [significant] about that ...
Beatles fans know the date as holy writ: July 6, 1957, when Paul McCartney met John Lennon for the very first time and showed him how to tune his guitar. A couple of weeks later, McCartney joined Lennon’s band—and the rest is history.
That band wasn’t playing rock ’n’ roll as such. Instead, the Quarrymen were playing a style of music called skiffle, mixing elements of American country and western, jazz, and blues with pub singalongs to create a sound ...
Some of this month’s excellent nonfiction
Heading into the heart of summer in Charleston, South Carolina, where I live, sometimes it’s too hot for anything except hunkering down in the air conditioning with a good book. Here are seven to check out this July, with quotes from our reviews.
The Unwomanly Face of War
by Svetlana Alexievich
“The Nobel laureate writes about ‘the wrong kind of war’: oral confessions from Russian women intimately involved with fighting for the motherland….Essential reading full of remarkable emotional wealth ...
Photo courtesy Jana Ašenbrennerová
Rare is the book about which one can say, in earnest, “I’ve never read anything like this before,” yet with A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause, Shawn Wen has written such a book. From its idiosyncratic area of interest to its chameleonic formal modalities, Applause resists easy categorization at every turn, and this is one of its many strengths. What begins as an inviting and imaginative gesture toward a biography of the mime Marcel Marceau branches out ...
New globe-trotting nonfiction
Summer means travel, and travel means discovery. Here are 10 July books that offer stimulating (but not always pleasant) explorations of various locales around the globe.
To the New Owners, Madeleine Blais
An “unfailingly charming reminiscence of summers spent on [Martha’s Vineyard].”
We Are Syrians, Adam Braver
“Three Syrians who have faced down their country’s police state tell their respective first-person stories.”
A Paris All Your Own, Eleanor Brown
“A quick and fun read that should delight seasoned ...
Language lessons from a master
Words matter. While most readers of this magazine would agree with that basic statement, our current president seems to be unfamiliar with that truth, and it seems he has plenty of fellow bunglers in his circle. In the face of the administration’s daily assault on intelligible English, and given that effective communication is a fundamental element of our humanity, the study of language is perhaps more important than ever.
For decades, British linguist and author David Crystal has investigated nearly ...