A nice little nugget of popular history, that covers an underappreciated epoch in the making of the modern world. The telegraph was probably on of theA nice little nugget of popular history, that covers an underappreciated epoch in the making of the modern world. The telegraph was probably on of the first technologies to fulfill Arthur C. Clarke’s dictum of being indistinguishable from magic, and the effect it had on the society that developed it, compared adroitly to the similar effect of the internet in our era, makes for a fascinating read....more
An excellent book about markets and the imperfect way in which we attach quantitative and subjective value to things within them; further, how this prAn excellent book about markets and the imperfect way in which we attach quantitative and subjective value to things within them; further, how this process can affect individual lives and dreams. It just happens to also be an exciting tale of a season in the remaking of baseball’s conventional wisdom as well. Sweet....more
I couldn't finish this the first time I tried. Just wasn’t in the mood at the time. I thought it would be kind of interesting reading on whacked out sI couldn't finish this the first time I tried. Just wasn’t in the mood at the time. I thought it would be kind of interesting reading on whacked out stuff like the Know-Nothings, the KKK, nativism, the Birchers, and so on, but it turns out it’s mostly about the influence of Evangelicals on our politics and culture throughout American history. And I thought I wanted to know more about that too, but it turned out to be pretty boring in practice, so I dropped it, for now. I’ll finish eventually, because it feels like stuff I ought to know, in the light of current events.
I ended up finishing this up a couple of years later. It was mostly good, but what he groups under anti-intellectualism gets a little too broad for my liking. I mean, that's the thesis and what the book is setting out to do, and most of it probably does count as anti-intellectual under a strict definition of the term, but it sort of rankled to see any form of populism or attempts at democratic participation in institutions getting lumped in with Bircher loons. I'm pretty sure he doesn't mean to make those equivalencies, but it's sort of a problem with the project. When you start to make progressive and non-canon education look like it's somewhere on a continuum with Bircher wingnuttiness, something has gone wrong, category-wise. All that might fall under the rubrik of "anti-intellectual," but that's putting forward an awfully narrow and conservative idea of what "intellectual" is. Plenty of credible intellectuals were for the educational ideas and some of the other demo-populist social trends he covers, whereas you can't find many if any who were for the loonier stuff.
I dunno, maybe I just had the wrong idea about what this book was setting out to do to begin with, as, like I said above, I thought it was going to focus much more on the really nasty nativist, racist, patriarchal, etc strands of American anti-intellectualism than it did....more
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 informationAnother 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....more