I wanted to like this, I really did, but in the end I just couldn’t. There were lots of funny little bits here and there, but the sum total was just t...moreI wanted to like this, I really did, but in the end I just couldn’t. There were lots of funny little bits here and there, but the sum total was just too glib, too shallow, too purposefully contrarian, and above all, too universalist and unqualified. The main problem is that he’s trying to universalize what amounts to a very narrow-bore pop culture experience. I’m only a few years younger, but very few of the touchstones(the Real World, Billy Joel, Saved by the Bell, etc) that he mentions have had any appreciable effect on my life or that of my peers. I’ve heard of them all and been exposed to them enough to have a good familiarity, but I can’t hang any of the shared meaning on them that he does and attempts to extend to his whole readership.
I was also bit irritated by his ongoing attempts to cast himself as lowbrow, working class, anti-elitist, etc. He may be genuinely uncomfortable being a part of a cultural elite(and some sincere confrontation with this discomfort could have been really interesting in this context), but he is, and he’s not fooling anyone with his protestations and poses to the contrary.
Finally, he should just avoid writing about the internet or gaming or computers, because he just doesn’t have any expertise in those areas and catty condescension is not enough to make up for that fact.(less)
Ugh. So whiny & snobbish & entitled & reactionary. There are fragments of a good travelogue peeking out through all the gloom, but mostly...moreUgh. So whiny & snobbish & entitled & reactionary. There are fragments of a good travelogue peeking out through all the gloom, but mostly this reads like the crappy blog entries I wrote to vent my frustration at trying to find my way around Europe alone after college. All of the stress and whining and disorientation and disappointed expectations, and little of the good stuff that ultimately made the trip worthwhile. It's a lot easier to write snark(and lord, does he go for the easy snark) than wonder, and it's a lot easier to write with the frame you bring in than to figure out how the trip has changed or surprised you. I know Bryson was a lot younger when he wrote this, but I still had a hard time believing it was him for much of the book. Especially disappointing because this is always spoken so well of, and now I just don't get where that comes from at all.(less)
Another book I’ve danced around by being online a lot. I had a general idea before of what he’s getting at, but I learned a lot about how information...moreAnother book I’ve danced around by being online a lot. I had a general idea before of what he’s getting at, but I learned a lot about how information acts in a social context, and about marketing and the exploitation of human psychological bugs to spread memes, for better and worse. Probably good things to know, whichever side of the battle for the commons you are on.
My big beef with this and with most of his work is that he’s far too credulous, reductive, and deterministic about the findings of psychology, sociology, cogsci, neurology, etc. He constantly makes the mistake of conflating statistical trends with ironclad physical laws that apply directly and inviolably to you the reader and everyone else. It makes for a nice just-so-story and has the added benefit for him of telling lots of pseudo-intellectual business/marketing types exactly what they want to hear and making them feel really smart for knowing the same truths he has just interviewed a bunch of them to “discover.” This approach may be lucrative and even somewhat diverting in his able hands, but it does a disservice to the richness and implications of the material and to the curiosity of the reader.
Basically, his approach boils down to: “I’ve interviewed a few scienticians and marketing flacks about X, and found that this is the way things are, so you had better get used to it.” and, by implication: “Those who are enlightened enough to detect and accept these inevitabilities can turn them to their own advantage and win big!” Compare that with someone else who writes on similar topics for an overlapping audience, Steven Johnson, whose approach is: “I got really interested in X, so I went out and learned as much as I could about it, and this is what I found. Isn’t that cool?! And here’s how it relates to Y and Z. And, finally, here are some possible implications, but what actually develops depends on how we decide to act on this knowledge and these connections.”
In a quintessentially Gladwellian fashion, I’ll leave it to you to divine who I think has the better approach.(less)
Read this for a college Phil course. Radical idealism definitely ain't my thing. I rebelled against it pretty strongly even then, when I didn't know e...moreRead this for a college Phil course. Radical idealism definitely ain't my thing. I rebelled against it pretty strongly even then, when I didn't know enough to know why. My ultimate reaction to Berkeley and most other stuff in this philosophical vein is "Yeah... So?" I'm just too much of a throughgoing pragmatist to play along long enough to get much out of it.(less)
Meh. I bought this as part of an effort to get a bit more of a literary, cultural, historical, etc view of my adopted home, and while there is a bit o...moreMeh. I bought this as part of an effort to get a bit more of a literary, cultural, historical, etc view of my adopted home, and while there is a bit of that to be found here, it’s mostly writers grinding their personal sociopolitical axes, and also a bit too much fluff. Not that there’s anything wrong with a personal take, or a political one, or any angle whatsoever in the abstract, but in a collection ostensibly about the city, I would like the essays to be a little less tangential and narrowly focused.(less)
Penetrating, cynically witty in parts, and pleasingly melancholic, but too clever by half and sorta hollow, slipshod and packaged, in the same way muc...morePenetrating, cynically witty in parts, and pleasingly melancholic, but too clever by half and sorta hollow, slipshod and packaged, in the same way much of what he is offhandedly criticizing is. The whole decrying-knowing-irony-whilst-compulsively-indulging-in-it schtick gets a bit old, if very tragically illustrative of the Problem With Our Culture or whatever. Perhaps this is a conscious decision, but it doesn't really work for me. Seemed more quotable than readable in the end.(less)
Man, what a crappy socialist utopia. Americans would figure out how to make a socialist utopia as saccharine and colorless and authoritarian as possib...moreMan, what a crappy socialist utopia. Americans would figure out how to make a socialist utopia as saccharine and colorless and authoritarian as possible, wouldn't we?
So, I read this out of historical interest, because it was a landmark work in American leftism, sold millions of copies in the 1890's, etc. I kinda wanted to know what got early American leftists excited. Evidently, it was very-thinly-novelized half-informed hectoring about proto-Marxist political economy. He sketched just barely enough of his utopian future to force the medicine down. For a supposed seminal work of scifi futurism, there's just no imagination at all... he even goes so far as to kinda just give up and make his year 2000 Boston look almost exactly like his 1887 Boston, just with less squalor and more monumental architecture. There are a few futurist stabs at what the society and technology of tomorrow would look like, but they're all ancillary and don't seem to have much at all to do with his political and economic vision. I don't know how anyone could have possibly read this for entertainment.
And what he does sketch out is not very appealing. He had a big hardon for organizing things on a military footing, and his utopia is awfully authoritarian. The results he posits seem pretty ok, but the means of getting to them are either implausible or would likely preclude those results. And everything is annoyingly, Socratically just-so.
And then to top it all off he has the temerity to throw in a totally cloying, shallow, and implausible romance, topped off with a gratuitous double-twist ending, just to mess with us.
Ok, ok, I shouldn't be so hard on him. This guy was essentially an amateur, trying to find the best way he could to expound his political ideas to a large audience. And obviously, it worked. I just can't believe this had such broad appeal. Americans must have been absolutely starving for good socialist agitprop back in the populist era. I had hoped it would be interesting on its own terms, but it's really only worth reading as a curiosity of historical and political interest, and barely at that.(less)
Man, I was so excited for this, which makes it doubly disappointing that it didn't quite pan out. It looks really great on the surface and totally up...moreMan, I was so excited for this, which makes it doubly disappointing that it didn't quite pan out. It looks really great on the surface and totally up my alley; an authoritative but accessible survey of utopian and communal communities in North America since the Colonial era. And it does cover most of that ground and impart lots of interesting and useful information, but unfortunately the good is mostly overwhelmed by how distractingly bad the prose and organizational structure are. We're talking undergrad research paper bad, at least in places.
They do completely puzzling things like diving in and spending the first 2-3 pages of a chapter about a given group on minutia and details as if we already know the whole story about them, and only then backing up and doing the basic introduction on who they were, what their ideals and situation were, and all of the pertinent information you would need to understand the stuff in the first few pages. Everything is all haphazard and out of order and at times it devolves almost into non-sequiturs. And the prose is clunky and awkward in general, and was constantly tearing me out of the narrative and distracting me from what I was supposed to be learning. The analysis also verges on new-agey nonsense at times, and I could have done without the dimestore philosophizing about how consumer society sucks and thus we need utopias, etc. A lot of that is at undergrad level as well.
It's shame, because there's a lot of interesting stuff in here, and the research seems generally good and original, if a bit spotty in places. I would have preferred a more on the fringe-ier utopian strains that devolved into cultish or worse behavior, like Koreshanity, Jonestown, and the 90's era with the Branch Davidians, Heaven's Gate, and the communitarian parts of the Christianist/militia movement, as those are on the continuum and need to be included in an accounting of utopian history in America.
Mostly, I just wish it had been better written and organized. You should still read it if you're really interested in utopian and intentional communities, but be prepared for a bit of a slog.(less)
I read this mainly to get some more Russian lit background to fill in the gaps. It was pretty good in some ways, weak in others. It’s basically just a...moreI read this mainly to get some more Russian lit background to fill in the gaps. It was pretty good in some ways, weak in others. It’s basically just an episodic collection of character sketches(albeit excellent ones)... nothing much happens and nobody changes overmuch. Historical context makes it better, as it makes you realize what an archetype Bazarov was at the time… kind of like an 1860’s Russian equivalent to Holden Caulfield in 1950’s America. Worthwhile, but you’d be better served to read the more well-known Russians first.(less)