Totally entertaining, and perhaps the most polished of Doctorow's books so far. He's obviously got an opinion, and he's not shy about having his charaTotally entertaining, and perhaps the most polished of Doctorow's books so far. He's obviously got an opinion, and he's not shy about having his characters give speeches representing that opinion. But he's not trying to sneak it past you, and he's given these issues a lot of thought.
I found myself inspired to make things after finishing this book, which is about the highest praise I could give something in this genre. The dedication -- to Walt Disney -- is an inspired touch. I hope a thousand Walts read these pages and bloom!...more
This book was a characteristically clear and impassioned take from William Patry on what's wrong with copyright policy and how it's formed all aroundThis book was a characteristically clear and impassioned take from William Patry on what's wrong with copyright policy and how it's formed all around the world. The suggestions are simple: pursue evidence-based policies that advance the public interest (gosh I hope that's not a spoiler) but the power of the argument makes this book one worth reading. It's also, unsurprisingly, very well researched, and digs up examples I was totally unfamiliar with to make points that really resonate.
A few formatting bugs (I read the US hardcover): all the footnotes and endnotes are in one list in the back, which means you have to keep flipping back and forth if you want to catch the substantive ones. I much prefer citations as endnotes and comments as footnotes. Weirdly, the copy-editing was a bit sloppy in some of the endnotes, too, but it was no major distraction....more
Really great and entertaining. No two ways about it, this is "hard sci-fi" and you'll be learning made-up and re-purposed words. But it's fun, and theReally great and entertaining. No two ways about it, this is "hard sci-fi" and you'll be learning made-up and re-purposed words. But it's fun, and there's a lot of pleasure in the way Rajeniemi explores the world he creates. In a sense, he's taking concepts from logic, game theory, and cryptography out to their fictional logical conclusion, and it's a really fun time. I'm excited to read the second book in the series next. ...more
What a pleasant and horrifying story. I didn't know what to expect, and it's only the second PKD book I've read, but I was fascinated the entire timeWhat a pleasant and horrifying story. I didn't know what to expect, and it's only the second PKD book I've read, but I was fascinated the entire time — so much so that I read the whole thing in a day, first on an airplane and then holed up in the room I was staying in.
It's just so impressive how completely this novel creates a world, populates it with all sorts of weird little patterns and people, and then sets a coterie of bizarre characters loose to explore it. I suspect it will reward a second reading, too: it seemed pretty rich with symbolism (starting with the titular substance, and continuing out to so many details) and I can't wait to unpack it....more
To the extent that this book is actually about the 2040s and the video game quest that makes up the core of the plot, it's not an excellent book. It'sTo the extent that this book is actually about the 2040s and the video game quest that makes up the core of the plot, it's not an excellent book. It's written in the first person, and the subject matter — the near-to-mid future and a fictitious virtual reality world — make it very difficult to avoid some cheesy and distracting elements; there's a lot of stilted exposition, a fair bit of hand-waviness to explain inconsistencies in the VR world, and a bit of the usual breathless sci-fi descriptions of things like "autocabs" and "eargear" that make the world feel like one of the present future, and not the future present.
That said, this book was tremendously entertaining and an enjoyable read. And really, it isn't *about* the events in the plot in any real way. Ready Player One is about obsession and identity, and how technology brings about changes in both. And the neat trick here is that Cline gets to air his obsessions in the book itself, and share them with the readers, too.
Descriptions of action inside video games don't really capture the imagination in the way other stories do. Maybe it's the stakes. Cline does the necessary work to make us understand that there is more to it than just avatars dying and respawning, but for all of the set-up, "battles" here don't feel like descriptions of real battles, and the event of failure just doesn't seem that catastrophic.
That's okay though. Not every story needs to span the fate of humanity, and this story covers the human-scale aspects nicely. I'm looking forward to reading more from Cline and seeing him develop as a writer....more
I picked this book up because Lessig called it "the most important book I've read in as long as I can remember". That's some high praise. Indeed, theI picked this book up because Lessig called it "the most important book I've read in as long as I can remember". That's some high praise. Indeed, the thesis of this book is an important one to take to heart when thinking about the world today and in the future, but to my mind the book falls short of being an excellent defense of that thesis.
Ayres uses the words "Super Crunching" (over and over) to refer to the act of analyzing large data sets to make evidence-based conclusions about things that previously depended on the intuition of experts. He does a good job of indicating that this process is almost always more effective than human decision making — which he demonstrates to be true in virtually all fields of endeavor — but that there are positive and negative implications to that effectiveness.
So: granting Ayres his thesis, what do we do with it? Airlines have long engages in price discrimination based on factors like purchase date, frequent flier status, and the like; but what do we do when those practices are applied in every industry, and using data from all aspects of the customer's life?
One response, and the one that Ayres explores, is encouraging citizens to increase their numeracy and the attention they pay to purchasing decisions. Another, and he mentions this in passing, is the emergence of a "datamining free" certification, like "free range" or "organic", that promises prices or business practices set by humans.
Two problems are raised but inadequately addressed, for my taste. How do we preserve the humanity of commerce when algorithms determine how to not "leave money on the table", and when discretion is driven further up the chain of command? I don't want to get all Jaron LanierJaron Lanier on you, but these are real things to consider.
There are some amazing businesses that don't function very well from a pure economic analysis. Craigslist is famously used as a bad example in Harvard business classes, because there are so many unexploited opportunities for monetization. But isn't that lack of a sense of exploitation the real reason that it's a success, and a uniquely modern one at that?
In all, this book brings some important realities to the fore, and shouldn't be punished for that. It is accessible for a layperson, and really drives some points home. I wouldn't call it the most important book I've read in as long as I can remember, but I'd recommend it to somebody who wanted to learn more about the way decisions are made at the corporate and governmental levels....more
Debt by David Graeber has a lot of great qualities: the writing is clear and readable, the research is comprehensive, and the opinions are well-formedDebt by David Graeber has a lot of great qualities: the writing is clear and readable, the research is comprehensive, and the opinions are well-formed. Plus I'm a fan of the author. In true anarchist-hipster fashion, I was into Graeber "before he was cool," which is to say before Occupy propelled him to the fame he totally deserves. Anyway, I really liked this book, on its own and as a selection for the book club with which I read it.
But it's not perfect, and unfortunately it's imperfect in a way that makes it hard for me to recommend it. In particular, the book is long. Like, really long. Longer than it looks. And it looks long. But what, you might ask, could one expect from a book that covers five thousand years of history of a concept as complex and interwoven with society as debt?
It could be long without being overwhelming. The truth is, Graeber provides so much detail and evidence for each of his claims beyond any reasonable standard of argument. What's more, some examples repeat, some are hidden in the footnotes, some are recurring and referred to glancingly, and some are only tangentially related to the point at hand. These are difficult problems to fix, but as it stands they make the book a bit of a slog for even the enthusiastic reader, a category into which I fall.
A stricter editor would've produced a shorter book, and I think that book would have been stronger. Each of the chapters are excellent. Graeber's articles on debt leading up to the publication of the book are excellent. The events are great, too: I went to see Graeber speak about Debt in San Francisco, and his nearly 3-hour presentation covering much of the same territory was completely entertaining, engaging, and informative.
One of the great points that Graeber expressed better in that lecture than I found in the book was the concept of debt as one of the most powerful and infections metaphors ever conceived for interpersonal relationships. The ability to use metaphors when they're helpful and recognize their limitations when they cease to be is one of the most important qualities of critical thinking available to us. At its best, Debt provides the tools and an opportunity to pick out the limitations of a metaphor so pervasive that it seems inviolable.
So: I have trouble recommending the book, but I hope people who can learn from it will find it and spend the time reading it. Graeber's a great thinker and a great writer, and the resources he provides in Debt could change the way we think about debt and society....more
I'm still gathering my thoughts on this one, and have a lunch meeting with the author, Rob Levine, planned for tomorrow. I'll write something up afterI'm still gathering my thoughts on this one, and have a lunch meeting with the author, Rob Levine, planned for tomorrow. I'll write something up after!...more
"Goon Squad" starts as a very conventionally good book, and for the first half plus is a really interesting and compelling collection of interlinked s"Goon Squad" starts as a very conventionally good book, and for the first half plus is a really interesting and compelling collection of interlinked short stories, not unlike a contemporary and urban Winesburg, Ohio. Which is great! In the second half, things start to get a bit unusual in format — one segment appears in the form of David Foster Wallace-style journalism, another completely in second person — and then get really weird, almost completely abandoning prose for one segment. As the format shifts, the content does too, spanning the Bay Area rock scene in the sixties and seventies all the way to NYC in the 2020s.
That shift is a bit jarring, insofar as it's sort of unexpected, but ultimately it's not a bad thing. I think if the book had been shooting for a conventional narrative experience throughout, Jennifer Egan could have knocked it out of the park; the character development, sense of dialogue, and pacing through disparate narratives are uniformly excellent. As it stands, she went for a more ambitious goal, with a higher degree of difficulty, and didn't completely hold me the whole way. I worried, too, about recommending the book at a certain point. My tolerance for speculative fiction is pretty high, but I could imagine "Goon Squad"'s foray into that territory could leave some of my other friends cold. Still, it's a great book, and one that rewards a close and quick reading....more