The world is a messy, complicated place, and when you try to shortcut that complexity things finds a way of biting you back. And as nice as it would be if the universe followed picture-book rules, where Big Ideas get expressed through outsized characters, wishing doesn't make it so. Uncertainty is the baseline. Understanding people or history means grappling with a messy thicket of conflicting incentives, interactions, and motivations.
17 universities have selected Zeitoun for campus reading programs. One can only imagine the pat conclusions and sweeping generalizations being drawn in discussion group after discussion group. Zeitoun's project - the notion that broad insight can be extracted via narratives drawn from samples with an N of 1 - is pretty much exactly the opposite of what I think you'd want to do if the goal was to introduce new college fresh-persons to a University intellectual community and the life of the mind.
Have them read the Times reporting on the Katrina hospitals and Pro Publica's coverage of the Danziger bridge shootings. Screen both Spike Lee documentaries on campus. Ask questions, build hypotheses. But as recent events in the Zeitoun universe illustrate in almost absurd fashion, don't presume that the essence of a story as complicated as Katrina can be encapsulated in any one person's experience.(less)
Picked this up because Harvey was the only person I had run into who had a plausible explanation why $500K+ condo towers were suddenly being thrown up...morePicked this up because Harvey was the only person I had run into who had a plausible explanation why $500K+ condo towers were suddenly being thrown up in downtrodden parts of Brooklyn, as summarized in n+1:
Harvey’s answer was that under capitalism land becomes “a pure financial asset”; land price is a claim on future revenue treated as a present-day asset. “Mortgages,” Marx said, “are mere titles on future rent.” And Harvey completes his thought: “Land price must be realized as future rental appropriation, which rests on future labor” (our italics). The big risk, naturally, is that you will attribute to real estate far more present-day value than can later on be returned to it by labor (in the form of the portion of total income devoted to housing). A bubble occurs not when people pay for real estate with money they don’t yet have—as always happens, given the availabilty of credit—but when they pay with money they will never have, out of wages they will never receive—out of wages no one will ever receive. http://nplusonemag.com/intellectual-situation-your-marx
Let me save you some time and distill the argument he's making here:
1) Capitalist economies expand. They generate surplus on the order of 3%/year. 2) That money needs to go somewhere. New investment opportunities are pursued! The financial sector can never stay still, as new surpluses require new outlets. 3) 3% compound growth gets really, really big over a long time horizon. Think Archimedes, give me a lever long enough, etc. 4) Need to continually expand makes the entire system prone to shocks and crises. Misallocation is inevitable when searching for new places to make use of the surplus.
Let's give Harvey his due -- as far as it goes, this is some incredibly insightful analysis as to why financial crises seem to constantly reoccur. If this was a long magazine article that laid out 1-4 and called it a day, it'd be a hugely important work. But Harvey's technical analysis is interwoven with a hazy, poorly articulated political program that calls the whole work into question. In brief:
1) He doesn't engage with any other thinker beyond Marx. Hayek gets a dismissive mention 200 pages in. Krugman and Samuelson are quoted, but only to establish that economists "didn't see it coming." Fine. But what about the bigger question about the (un)sustainability of growth? This is literally the central argument in the book.
2) His conception of the politics of "the capitalist class" is so reductive as to be childish. The interests or thinking of "the capitalist class" are a get-out-of-jail ticket that Harvey uses to resolve any apparent contradiction in his political analysis. p. 270: "But the Party of Wall Street, having won its battle to preserve tax cuts for the most affluent, then came to its senses. It decided that two years of total austerity was too much to take." Oh did it!? Not only is total unanimity in the "capitalist class" assumed, but apparently they have the ability to change course on a dime. Whatever your politics, this is nonsense, and it's plainly lazy analysis.
3) The matter of alternatives. I'll even concede to you that the "no alternative" argument is the last refuge of a scoundrel etc etc. Here is what I am saying: If you don't have an alternative to offer (and I don't think Harvey's even fooling himself with his vague call for 'political mobilization'), don't casually throw out a call for revolutionary violence. p. 250: "It would also be comforting to think that all of this could be accomplished pacifically...but it would be disingenuous to imagine that this could be s, that no active struggle would be involved, including some degree of violence. Capitalism came into the world...bathed in blood and fire...the odds are heavily against any purely pacific passage to the promised land." (less)
For a book positing the end of the average, Cowen's most recent work is surprisingly mediocre. To be frank, as a fairly devoted Marginal Revolution re...moreFor a book positing the end of the average, Cowen's most recent work is surprisingly mediocre. To be frank, as a fairly devoted Marginal Revolution reader and an enormous fan of Cowen's thinking, I expected a lot more. Digressive and chatty, but not in a good way; Cowen never puts together anything more demanding than what you might read in a Sunday opinion column. Far too much of the book is devoted to the intricacies of freestyle chess -- whatever the strength of that metaphor, Average is Over would have a much stronger argument if 25 pages of chess digression was swapped out with some serious charts and graphs. Brynjolfsson and McAfee's Race Against the Machine is superior in virtually every dimension -- and at $3.99 for the e-book, a perfect illustration of the forces mentioned within.(less)
Whatever your opinion of Feynman, you need to reconcile the fact that he's got unbearably retrograde opinions:
"When I was at Cornell, I was rather fas...moreWhatever your opinion of Feynman, you need to reconcile the fact that he's got unbearably retrograde opinions:
"When I was at Cornell, I was rather fascinated by the student body, which seems to me was a dilute mixture of some sensible people in a big mass of dumb people studying home economics, etc, including lots of girls. I used to sit in the cafeteria with the students and eat and try to overhear their conversations and see if there was one intelligent word coming out. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered a tremendous thing, it seemed to me. I listened to a conversation between two girls, and one was explaining that if you want to make a straight line, you see, you go over a certain number to the right for each row you go up, that is, if you go over each time the same amount when you go up a row, you make a straight line. A deep principle of analytic geometry! It went on. I was rather amazed. I didn't realize the female mind was capable of understanding analytic geometry. She went on and said, 'Suppose you have another line coming in from the other side and you want to figure out where they are going to intersect.' Suppose on one line you go over two to the right for every one you go up, and the other line goes over three to the right for every one that it goes up, and they start twenty steps apart, etc.-I was flabbergasted. She figured out where the intersection was! It turned out that one girl was explaining to the other how to knit argyle socks. I, therefore, did learn a lesson: The female mind is capable of understanding analytic geometry. Those people who have for ears been insisting (in the face of all obvious evidence to the contrary) that the male and female are equal and capable of rational thought may have something. The difficulty may just be that we have never yet discovered a way to communicate with the female mind. If it is done in the right way, you may be able to get something out of it." (p. 175-76, which is somewhat hilariously indexed as "Geometry")
This is pretty ugly even for 1966.
Hard to reconcile that this is the same guy who espouses "I don't believe in the idea that there are a few peculiar people capable of understanding math, and the rest of the world is normal. Math is a human discovery, and it's no more complicated than humans can understand" (194) - until you realize when he says people he means men.
insightful, enjoyable, lively. does the patented n+1 thing of wrestling with serious ideas in a sort of digressive, talky, earnest way; I almost calle...moreinsightful, enjoyable, lively. does the patented n+1 thing of wrestling with serious ideas in a sort of digressive, talky, earnest way; I almost called MFA vs. NYC 'light', but that doesn't really seem appropriate for a book with a Fredric Jameson essay, no?
top tracks: 1) the original Harbach essay 2) Saunders [he is so good] 3) Gessen 2014 4) tie; Maria Adelman and Jim Rutman 5) Gessen 2006
some fragmentary notes I took down: There's a bunker mentality - a pervasive sense of crisis - that's apparent in pretty much every essay, usually in tone. The term never gets used, but it's fairly clear that we have a bubble in MFA programs ("There are now 214 MFA programs in creative writing in this country-twice as many as there were eight years ago." [emphasis original]). At their core, nearly every essay in the book is an attempt to come to grips with some feature of that baseline truth.
MFA vs NYC is a tangle of anxiety - getting published, fitting in, debt, income, employment, homogenization - and all of that is on top of the Jonathan-Franzen-reading-crisis thing that's just offstage in any discussion of books that's happened since the 2000s, to say nothing of Amazon/ebooks/self-publishing etc. etc.
MFA vs NYC is weirdly quiet on some of the Big Questions about the future of publishing - the word 'Kindle' only appears twice, and 'ebook' is absent entirely! I'm not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, Harbach & co. are focused narrowly on the culture of production; on the other, the pressures exerted by presumed tastes of the reading public are central to the 'NYC' side of the argument. There's a lot to chew on - but ultimately the argument feels incomplete.
Last bit of marginalia that I'm transcribing: "Publishing is what you get if you take the aesthetic preferences of the art market and apply the economics of Costco." The explosion of the art market in the past few decades has sort of been taken as a given, like gravity
and I realize that I'm not telling you anything that Benjamin didn't do a much better job of, but: paintings are a way, way better artform than books in a capitalist marketplace: they can impact the culture quickly and broadly, with little demanded from the consumer (you can consume a painting with a mere glance), yet their value as commodities can't be divorced from the 'original' object. Books, while almost certainly far more important for the intellectual/moral/spiritual life of society, compare horribly. They are demanding to consume, and they are pure commodities - mass produced and nearly identical in every way. That's the basic problem; MFA vs. NYC shades in a lot of details on how that plays out for real people. basically, lots of feels.
also I learned that Gordon Lish is a huge hornball.(less)
Have been waiting for my thoughts on Short and Tragic Life (SaTL) to cohere on this one, but they aren't cooperating, so I'm going to take a stab at t...moreHave been waiting for my thoughts on Short and Tragic Life (SaTL) to cohere on this one, but they aren't cooperating, so I'm going to take a stab at this anyways. Complicated feelings about a complicated book.
Mr. Martin, speaking for the Defense: It's clear that Hobbs did some pretty methodical reporting for SaTL. Everyone in Robert Peace's orbit - family, friends, classmates - is pretty well represented, and even more importantly, Hobbs doesn't over-reach and make ill-advised grand pronouncements about social policy or the war on drugs or poverty or what-have-you. The book's central, inner-flap, bold-face question - What does the untimely death of one man mean? is left as an exercise for the reader, and you are left with a lot to chew on. Jeff Hobbs knows that this is not really his story to tell, and he honors Rob's story by presenting a patchwork portrait told almost entirely through the direct observations and interpretations of the people in Rob's life.
Mr. Martin, on behalf of the prosecution: SaTL's terrain, the Two Americas that cleave on lines of class and race, is complicated, really complicated, and we need a different tour guide, even if the aim is to tell an n of 1 story. When Jamelle Bouie can write you a better thesis for whatever Bookforum is paying for a review these days (presumably days, not years of labor), that's a problem. Jeff Hobbs certainly seems to mean well, but if this is a story of Two Americas, Jeff was raised, educated, and lives firmly in the first; hence why his explanations of topics like the black experience at Yale (134) are so stiff and ungainly.
Ultimately I think I come down somewhere closer to the prosecution. SaTL is not a flawed book, but one that is ultimately unable to transcend its own improbable circumstances.(less)
thought I was picking up some sort of parable about student debt, which, you know timely, piketty in space, something something. turned out to be an a...morethought I was picking up some sort of parable about student debt, which, you know timely, piketty in space, something something. turned out to be an adventure story about space pirates - the number-five ranked* amazon book in the 'space marine' category, no less.
but honestly, who's complaining! as space piracy** thrillers go, poor man's fight clicked on all cylinders.
*today you/I learned: there is an amazon fiction subgenre named 'space marine'! **admit it, you laughed(less)
Shape of Content does not have 1.0 books worth of ideas, length adjusted. The last es...moreAs much love as I have for Ben Shahn
Farewell to New York
Shape of Content does not have 1.0 books worth of ideas, length adjusted. The last essay, "Education of an Artist," has some choice excerpts destined to be reborn as rebloggable tumblr directives
Go to an art school, or two, or three, or take art courses at night if necessary. And paint and paint and draw and draw. Know all that you can, both curricular and noncurricular – mathematics and physics and economics, logic, and particularly history.
but few of the other essays felt particularly essential. (less)
Absolutely fantastic. Future Cities is a yarn - a "gather-round-the-fire, children, and listen to tales of fantastic cities in faraway lands" kind of...moreAbsolutely fantastic. Future Cities is a yarn - a "gather-round-the-fire, children, and listen to tales of fantastic cities in faraway lands" kind of yarn. A yarn about buildings (ok about development) and what they can tell us about what we believe and what we value. Also, Nevsky Prospect!
Brook brings the analytical tools of a historian or economist (his explanation for 'why Dubai?' is amazing) with the narrative eye of an novelist, a rare, and welcome, combination. This is a book unlike any I've ever read - its thesis -- "We build our world--and our future." (395) is concerned with the ideology of these future cities, far more so than the histories themselves.
It's easy enough to assert 'Buildings (or if you want to get fancy, the built environment) inevitably reflect the attitudes of the time and place of their construction' but it's another thing entirely to actually go about doing that reading. This is exactly what Future Cities does for St. Petersburg, Bombay, Shanghai, and Dubai. The level of insight and Weschler-style connections drawn between these four cities is humbling and profound.
Should also be mentioned that Future Cities is chock-full of head-turning 'you must be joking' detail and errata. Here is a small sampling, just from the last 80 pages:
As in ninteenth-century St. Petersburg, if you're with-it enough to be a worldly resident of your nation's most international city, you're also knowledgeable enough to understand that, through happenstance of history, your society remains yoked to an antiquated political system, a bizarre holdover from the previous century. Walking down Nanjing Road [in Shanghai], with all the world's products for sale and all the world's peoples assembled in the context of political deep freeze, is the closest one can get to strolling down Gogol's Nevsky Prospect in ninteenth-century St. Petersburg.(321)
Dubai is so devoid of natives that, in 2007, the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing sponsored a series of "Talk to a Local" booths in Dubai shopping malls so tourists could meet a real-life Emirati. (370)
Even in the city's [Mumbai] poshest districts, shantytowns fill any available unclaimed space. A small informal settlement shockingly sits on the same street as the most expensive private home in the world, oil refinery baron Mukesh Ambani's recently completed, American-designed, twenty-seven-story personal high-rise that cost an estimated $1 billion to build. (341)
What Miami had long been for the elite of Latin America - a place to park wealth too risky to keep back home - Dubai became for the magnates and kelocrats of the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and the former Soviet Union. The apotheosis of this trend would come in 2009, when the dictator of Azerbaijan amassed nine waterfront mansions during a two-week, $44 million buying spree - all purchased in the name of his eleven-year-old son. (357)
tl;dr - this is not the Roberto Unger you are looking for.
Heard Roberto Unger on the Economist and was pretty intrigued - the call for radical transfo...moretl;dr - this is not the Roberto Unger you are looking for.
Heard Roberto Unger on the Economist and was pretty intrigued - the call for radical transformation of public institutions via experimentation/innovation was in my wheelhouse.
The most charitable reading would be:
Unger and West were pretty forward thinking (this is published in the late 90s, after all), for anticipating the growing challenge of inequality to the country (they call this the economic vanguard vs the rearguard) and for laying out a program of labor reskilling/continuous learning, health care/education, and innovative vehicles for capital investment via quasi-public institutions.
Here's their argument in a nutshell:
1) As a country we are characterized by a "belief that Americans can make themselves and remake their society, that they can make everything new" (4) 2) ...through the "faith in the genius of ordinary men and women" (11) 3) ...confronting problems 'through human effort and ingenuity. Americans resist seeing particular problems as the manifestation of hidden, hard constraints. They believe that the terrors of vast problems yield to the effects of many small solutions."
Progressives, though, have abandoned innovation and experimentation; the left has lost imagination and mostly worries about the rollback of older transfer programs or treating the symptoms of inequality. We need a new spirit of collective action, one that is local and bottom up, that uses market institutions and is open-minded and innovative about new institutional arrangements that will reduce inequality.
...intellectually, there's a lot to like here - and maybe that's enough? But, ugh, that reading would be so charitable that it would ignore the haphazardly argued, loopy book that actually got written. There are some nice turns of phrase, but as a collection of words that either calls you to action or coherently explains the argument sketched above, Future of American Progressivism is pretty disappointing.
Here, as briefly as possible, are some of those problems: 1) Vague, to the point where it's not clear what's being argued. As in, if this was a term paper, it would be fair to return it with a note at the top that said "You only need to write one introductory paragraph for your argument, not 6." You simply can't sustain the amount of throat-clearing that happens here while finding time to lay out an argument this big in 93 short pages.
2) What shoulders do they stand on? or not stand on? At some points, I found myself writing 'is this Hayek?' in the marginalia. Walt Whitman and John Stuart Mill make a fleeting appearance, and there are some head nods to the Jeffersonian democratic thinking v. 0.1, but that's about it. This is especially weird considering that Cornel West is involved, and that guy is the most erudite speaker I've ever heard.
3) It's totally unclear what kind of innovation they want - and in fact, the political program laid out probably doesn't get anywhere close to the grand 'new method of politics' pronouncements in pt. 1. Concrete things that get said: privatize social security, replace income tax with consumption tax, try more public contracting or privatization of utilities, job training, and state-owned venture capital funds. The last one (public venture capital) is interesting, but like 2/3 of the other stuff got proposed by Bush 43, which I can't imagine was Cornel West's point.(less)
Follows Ali's early career up through the Liston and Patterson fights, stopping with Vietnam and the draft. Along the way we're treated to first-rate...moreFollows Ali's early career up through the Liston and Patterson fights, stopping with Vietnam and the draft. Along the way we're treated to first-rate capsule biographies of Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston. It is really a shame that we don't get book-length Remnick any more - the guy is a professional.
I'm not really sure how a book-length treatment of Ali ends up leaving out all the Frazier fights (the Fight of the Century? Thrilla in Manilla?) and the Foreman fight (Rumble in the Jungle? - I mean, even if you're not a boxing fan you've heard about those fights). Remnick's project appears to be to follow the arc of Ali's political and religious development to tell a story about the country and the civil rights movement in the 60s. It's hard to see why Ali-Frazier 1 doesn't make the cut with its symbolic overtones (1971, draft dodger vs. serviceman, Vietnam, heavyweight belt on the line - "If you were against the war in Vietnam, you rooted yourself hoarse for Ali. If you wanted the hippies, freaks and Black Power disciples humbled, you wanted Smokin’ Joe." - Dave Zirin). I mean,
You have to wonder -- is it simply that when Remnick took over from Tina Brown in 1998 he had a half-finished manuscript and no time on his hands?
Even so, the portrait of early Ali, especially drawn in relief against the bigoted establishment sports media, Floyd Patterson's integrationist politics, and Sonny Liston's... Sonny Liston-ness b/w the Mob? is amazing. Amazing characters (this is boxing), incredible nuggets and boxing errata (Patterson's suitcases full of disguises?! Liston's juiced gloves?), and a rich psychological portrait of Ali - first rate narrative biography all around.(less)
more than anything what i appreciated about this book is that it reads as fundamentally honest. sometimes hessler is his better self; at others he's irritated and judgmental as he adjusts to the country. he doesn't sugarcoat his perceptions or cast his behavior as particularly heroic. over time, he revisits opinions.
reading a mid-90s narrative in 2011 adds another layer to the book, as well. hessler is in sichuan/szechuan, upstream from the three gorges, and ends up documenting a slice of chinese life that was uprooted after the reservoir filled, and he's teaching students who are only a year or two away from leaving central china to coastal areas. the notion that any single travel narrative could capture anything essential about a country as large as china is silly, but hessler's book ends up catching a slice of an enormously important story.(less)
Really weird; really good. I somehow missed the Lovecraft revival train that left the station a few years ago, but this makes me wish I was on it. Evo...moreReally weird; really good. I somehow missed the Lovecraft revival train that left the station a few years ago, but this makes me wish I was on it. Evokes fond memories of S1/S2-era Lost, where you had glimmers and hints of another reality, similar to our own but slightly off-kilter. Books 2 and 3 have been pre-ordered, to say the least.(less)
It feels wrong to be the first review on this, so let me simply say that I have this thing dog-eared within an inch of its life. "Secret Canon", "Wron...moreIt feels wrong to be the first review on this, so let me simply say that I have this thing dog-eared within an inch of its life. "Secret Canon", "Wrong Science" and "Advice" especially.
DAYNA TORTORICI: What would Jack London do? Christ. You'd be dead.
Pinprick-sharp summary of the science, pre-history and current political context of our present teacher quality debate. There's the old saw about how...morePinprick-sharp summary of the science, pre-history and current political context of our present teacher quality debate. There's the old saw about how you know you succeeded w/r/t a politically divisive subject when you anger both sides; Green has done something much more rare (and difficult); namely, written a compelling synthesis bridging of two very different viewpoints. Start with the NYT mag article, but if you have any interest in education/education reform, definitely pick this up.
In broad, possibly reductionist strokes, you have the reform and Gates foundation community (of which I loosely consider myself a part) on one side, who has read the Hanushek stuff about the *incredible* importance of teacher quality, is frustrated by the glacial pace of change, and has embraced standards and accountability as primary tools for improving education.
On the other you have Ed School/union/remnants of progressive/unschooling crowd, who recognize first and foremost the skill and judgement required to teach, view teacher autonomy as a primary tool for improvement, and feel attacked and unappreciated by everyone above.
The reformers call unions and traditional districts "the blob"; they call the reformers "privatizers"; somewhere in the mix you have the Tea Party making strange bedfellows; yelling and frustration ensues. The way out is somewhere in between; traditionalists need to recognize that the only way forward is through the intense feedback that comes with standards and common practices (hat tip to the Japan chapter); reformers need to understand that evaluation and sanctions on their own are blunt instruments unlikely to cause transformational change in the culture of teaching on their own.
Green points to Deborah Ball at Michigan and innovators in the charter sector (Doug Lemov; KIPP) as offering a third way forward; given the current rancor over the Common Core I'm not holding my breath, but I will certainly be telling everyone I work with to read this.
(nb: There is a Drew Martin in this book; I am not that Drew Martin.)(less)
fun, light, pleasant; Bonnett has a love for the subject matter that shines through. some choice details (in particular, the aside about Hemingway's b...morefun, light, pleasant; Bonnett has a love for the subject matter that shines through. some choice details (in particular, the aside about Hemingway's brother!) and oddities catalogued -- the vignettes on the Guinea/Senegal border, pumice islands, and Peace Village, North Korea were highlights -- but Unruly Places is ultimately undone by its breezy, toe-dipping approach, with no single topic meriting more than about 1,000 words -- or about the same length as a portrait in an airplane backseat travel mag. Difficult to tell if it is the format or the man, but Unruly Places is ultimately ill-served by the decision -- in borrowing form and structure from breezy travel copy, Bonnet brings too much of its tone and depth, as well.(less)
a clear, well argued, commendable cri de coeur, to be sure; 5 stars for the indictment but maybe two for the solutions.
it's true that the way we teac...morea clear, well argued, commendable cri de coeur, to be sure; 5 stars for the indictment but maybe two for the solutions.
it's true that the way we teach HS math is intellectually bankrupt. Lockhart's solution is math for math's sake - an un-curricilum built around puzzles and games, designed mostly to create those moments of pure awe that grappling with abstract concepts can bring. but like most austere utopias, I'm not sure I actually sure it's the right place for most of us to reside.
there's a Sinclair quote to the effect that in writing the Jungle he aimed for America's head and hit them in the stomach instead. similar thing here - I think what Lockhart wants is a more austere math classroom, one with a lot more number theory and a lot more abstraction.
I want to invite Dan Meyer and the computational thinking crowd into math class. more statistics, more simulations, and a lot of "why don't you write a little script and see if that helps?" more models, more sensors, more data analysis. the aesthetics of math that captivates Lockhart is gonna hook some share of any classroom, but for a lot of others it could scan a lot like art or poetry appreciation - beautiful, but only if you're buying what's being sold.(less)
to borrow from another reviewer, Another Great Day... is exactly as good as a book written by a narrator with
poor memory, poor note-taking, and indi
...moreto borrow from another reviewer, Another Great Day... is exactly as good as a book written by a narrator with
poor memory, poor note-taking, and indifferent attitude toward details like names and ranks
could be. which is to say, entirely in the eye of the beholder, and to this beholder, mostly disappointing.
I somehow hitched myself to the Geoff Dyer wagon after Zona, even though in retrospect I never actually read Zona -- it just sort of pervaded 2012, that rare book that somehow floods various channels (friends, book reviews, etc.) and makes itself known. the weird Stalker + live commentary thing he did was definitely the kicker.
Anyways so I think I remain in on Geoff Dyer, man of letters, but Another Great Day didn't do a lot for me. I can echo the other reviews here - Dyer is a remarkably unsympathetic narrator. Cantankerous; selfish; full of complaints about food and noise and sleeping quarters. That's not really the point, though - that was DFW's approach towards cruise ships, and that equation netted a pretty brilliant essay.
The flaw here is Dyer's... glibness? His unwillingness to fully submit to life on an aircraft carrier makes him a poor correspondent; two moments stand out.
My untrained ear was having trouble keeping up with Dicola's explanation of what the various parts of the cat[apult] were called. These, let's say, were failures at the level of the noun. They were exceeded by systematic failures at the level of the verb: what these nouns--these various parts--did. (35)
Superb turn of phrase, to be sure, but do not pass go and do not collect £200; it's a dodge, and I frankly don't buy it. Try harder. Ask questions. Use your words. Give me an analogy, or describe what it evokes.
Dessert arrived--a chocolate thingy--and then everyone signed the menus and posed for pictures. (175)
'chocolate thingy' here, especially in the context of the final chapter (homesickness & eagerness to leave) all but screams "I'm throwing in the towel".
Perhaps I am picking at nits, but Another Great Day never really delivers because Dwyer promises an insider story of a city on the water that really never experiences, because he never immerses and never commits.(less)
Heard Tony Wagner on the Ed Next book club, and was impressed - a dose of economic realism + appreciation for mastery, craft, purpose + fairly clear t...moreHeard Tony Wagner on the Ed Next book club, and was impressed - a dose of economic realism + appreciation for mastery, craft, purpose + fairly clear thinking about what that means for classrooms. The biggest strength here, I think, is that Wagner does a nice job fleshing out a vision for the kind of school system the city-dwelling, latte-sipping, Richard Florida* wants, but has difficulty describing. In the middle of a passage on the MIT Media lab, he lays it out:
-collaboration (vs. individual achievement) -multidisciplinary learning (vs. specialization) -an emphasis on creating things -encouragement of trial and error -a strong emphasis on intrinsic motivation
There's a fair bit of mushy, less than rigorous HR-philosophizing in here -- finding one's passion, empowering employees, innovators dilemma, etc. etc. The world doesn't need any more column inches on millennials and their working styles. And god forbid the Thomas Frank snarky quote machine gets its hands on some of the less-than-hard-hitting profiles in here...
But you know what? Thomas Frank is quickly turning into a mean spirited crank, and dammit if I wouldn't like any future progeny of mine to have the chance to attend a school like the one outlined in these pages. 4 stars.
*whether you want to accept it or not, we are all Richard Floridians now.(less)
Canadian history deep cut. Just so we get some facts on the table, this is the house imprint of the Minnesota Historical Society. Canoeing figures hea...moreCanadian history deep cut. Just so we get some facts on the table, this is the house imprint of the Minnesota Historical Society. Canoeing figures heavily.
This is an odd book, and the first half or so was mildly disappointing. Who is Ernest Oberholtzer?* As in, do we know any relevant biographical details of this guy, and if so, why aren't they in this book? Pretty much the entirety of his backstory through college graduation is covered in 91 words (I counted), and 31% of those covered his fascination with logs floating down the Mississippi.
By the end Old Way North, though, it was clear that this was no accident - Oberholtzer remains a cipher because the character profiled here is neither the man, nor the trip, but rather the travel corridor that connects Lake Winnipeg to Churchill/Hudson's Bay itself. And while this whole history-of-a-thing concept isn't exactlypathbreaking, I would actually say that Pelly is up to something pretty interesting here. We're not beat over the head with inflated pronouncements of the importance of Oberholtzer to Canadian exploration, or paeans to the spirit of the north woods, etc. etc. -- the brief, matter-of-fact snapshots we get of the title expedition become the dog that didn't bark.
The story here is not what Oberholtzer's expedition was but what it wasn't>. He travels without Dene a guide. He encounters important Dene tribal leaders but doesn't speak the language and doesn't stick around. He makes it to the edge of Inuit territory, but doesn't manage to meaningfully connect with anyone. He traverses the totality of a fur trading/trapping network in its waning days, but never documents his experiences. Pelly's book becomes an exploration of the trip that didn't happen, but could have. Oberholtzer's journey is the narrative thread, but couldn't be less important to the story being told.
But like I said, deep cut. A reader whose formative years didn't prominently feature MN living history museums** would probably need a deep briefing about the Hudson's Bay Company, pemican, the concept of a portage, and birch bark canoes to make heads or tails of this one. But the LOC cataloging data (Manitoba -- Description and Travel. Canoes and canoeing -- Manitoba -- History -- 20th Century) does not disappoint. Pelly does a nice job drawing out the contours of the fur trading and trapping world of the central Canadian corridor, and makes some surprisingly adventurous decisions in the telling.
*Don't fret, you won't be dealing with a 350+ page address on liberty at the reveal. There is no reveal. **Relative distances are described with Minneapolis as the point of reference! Guys, no one else in the world does this. Minneapolis to San Diego is not a particularly evocative yardstick for most people. (less)
the lolmythesis distillation of Collision Low Crossers would go something like "NFL football has nothing to do with what you see on TV; the important...morethe lolmythesis distillation of Collision Low Crossers would go something like "NFL football has nothing to do with what you see on TV; the important stuff happens on weekdays in office buildings, and is far more grueling than you ever imagined." this isn't really a book about the NFL - it's a participant history of the NFL coaching-industrial complex; actual in-game events get noted like wire service bulletins from a faraway conflict. The real action happens behind the scenes, mostly watching film or on the practice fields in Florham Park.
as Pete noted, the pitch for to Little, Brown for this one was probably long on super bowl rings and less "step inside the locker room of an underachieving and dysfunctional Jets team as they record a largely forgettable 8-8 season", and, perhaps as a consequence, Dawidoff seems to have been granted pretty broad artistic license, with mostly pleasant results, especially if allusions to Renaissance portraiture ("To him football film was a Brueghel painting...") or WW1 battles are your bag (all fine here).
That was really half of NFL coaching - thinking of one's players as characters, each with a set of skills to model in the endless sequence of narrative experiments that sixteen times a regular season became a game plan. (1326)
...the empty, beautifully groomed fields in front of us and imagine the underlying images of all the scenes that had taken place on them, all the many carefully plotted plays from hundreds of bygone practices, a pentimento reflecting the resilient yet invisibly traced presence of football past.
...which is the saving grace of the Collision Low Crossers, because the 2011 Jets are thoroughly unremarkable in the traditional sports opera department. Dawidoff is attuned to enormous personal sacrifice required to stay on top of the massively complex schemes of the modern NFL - stories that are essentially hidden, despite the existence of multiple 24/7 TV channels specifically for the game of football.
Almost every person in that room resembled a man whose fiancee has broken up with him without warning. They were limping, red-eyed, and spent. (6391)
They were trying to control the uncontrollable, and losing was the inevitable result. They lost their sleep, they lost their pleasures, they lost their homes, they lost their cities, they lost their children's childhoods, and they lost their marriages. And for all that, they also lost their players and colleagues and their jobs. (6498)
beautifully written, insightful, objectively too long and guilty of forest/tree discernment issues. still, though. very good.(less)
if fiction is ultimately supposed to accomplish interiority (let's start there, anyways), Love Affairs is hitting for average basically out of the gat...moreif fiction is ultimately supposed to accomplish interiority (let's start there, anyways), Love Affairs is hitting for average basically out of the gate. extraordinary command of the written language (fielding?) makes this a two-tool novel, at least.
I could keep going with this fractionally-baked 5 tools metaphor ('symbolism' was getting ready to make an entrance as hitting for power and maybe 'narrative structure' = running speed?), but basically what I am trying to convey is that this is a really, really good novel about relationships. also I think I got most of the jokes, although I did have to google the Bernhard (p 29) reference.
the pull quote from Ben Kunkel on the back calls Love Affairs a novel of 'twenty-first- century manners', by which I think he means 'it's about dating and love and the predilections of carroll gardens brooklyn, but it's super-well done and there's lots of insight.' if you were looking for weaknesses here one could certain make an obscene hand gesture and comment about south brooklyn's navel-gazing fascination with a tired set of upmarket white-people concerns (which waldman herself seems to feel a bit uncomfortable with, at times) - but I actually think that would be unfair. write what you know, after all, and waldman manages to spend 240 p. in the territory of Feelings and guys and bodies without ever once veering off into bad sex writing or supermarket-aisle women's magazine copy ("Lose 10 Pound in 10 Days on Our Super Summer Diet"). if you think that's easy, try doing it.(less)
The questions that Murray is writing about (inequality, poverty, ever-advancing class segregation) are re...moreBottom line: this is a vicious, vicious book.
The questions that Murray is writing about (inequality, poverty, ever-advancing class segregation) are really important, and there's some extremely clever methodological stuff at play here (the super-Zips analysis was profound and revealing; the class directory analysis for Harvard Business School alums was ingenius), but fundamentally this book is a jeremiad, castigating poor people for vice, laziness, and immorality.
They don't get married:
...the percentage of children living with both biological parents when the mother was 40 was sinking below the 30 percent level, compared to 90 percent of Belmont children who were still living with both biological parents. The divergence is so large that it puts the women of Belmont and Fishtown into different family cultures. The absolute level in Fishtown is so low that it calls into question the viability of white working-class communities as a place for socializing the next generation.
They don't go to church:
People who don’t go to church can be just as morally upright as those who do, but as a group they do not generate the social capital that the churchgoing population generates—it’s not “their fault” that social capital deteriorates, but that doesn’t make the deterioration any less real. The empirical relationships that exist among marriage, industriousness, honesty, religiosity, and a self-governing society mean that the damage is done...
They don't work:
To sum up: There is no evidence that men without jobs in the 2000s before the 2008 recession hit were trying hard to find work but failing. It was undoubtedly true of some, but not true of the average jobless man. The simpler explanation is that white males of the 2000s were less industrious than they had been twenty, thirty, or fifty years ago, and that the decay in industriousness occurred overwhelmingly in Fishtown.
And Murray's not just describing the ravages of poverty - this isn't How The Other Half Lives - it's How The Other Half's Vices Are Destroying The Republic--actually, take it way, Charles:
people who have never quite gotten their acts together and are the despair of the parents and siblings, even though they seem perfectly pleasant when you meet them. That’s mostly what the new lower class involves. Individually, they’re not much of a problem. Collectively, they can destroy the kind of civil society that America requires.
And the solution? In part, shame, scorn, and judgement:
Nonjudgmentalism ceases to be baffling if you think of it as a symptom of Toynbee’s loss of self-confidence among the dominant minority. The new upper class doesn’t want to push its way of living onto the less fortunate, for who are they to say that their way of living is really better? It works for them, but who is to say that it will work for others.
Let me put it plainly - this isn't a serious book. It's ideology masquerading as social science. It cites the GSS an awful lot for ideology, but the methodological rigor involved in cataloguing Fishtown's ills is completely absent in conversations about causality or consequences.
the labor force problems that grew in Fishtown from 1960 to 2010 are intimately connected with the increase in the number of unmarried men in Fishtown.
It's as if public policy or changes in the macroeconomy simply didn't exist between 1960 and 2010 - you simply have private men and women, making choices wholly in a vacuum. The closest thing we get to an acknowledgement that private choices intersect with broader structures is a sidenote about changes to Ivy League admissions in the 60's - but that takes us to another of Murray's hobby-horses, IQ, and let's not go down that road.
Let's close with Murray on public policy, which I will present without further editorial comment:
When the government intervenes to help, whether in the European welfare state or in America’s more diluted version, it not only diminishes our responsibility for the desired outcome, it enfeebles the institutions through which people live satisfying lives. There is no way for clever planners to avoid it. Marriage is a strong and vital institution not because the day-to-day work of raising children and being a good spouse is so much fun, but because the family has responsibility for doing important things that won’t get done unless the family does them. Communities are strong and vital not because it’s so much fun to respond to our neighbors’ needs, but because the community has the responsibility for doing important things that won’t get done unless the community does them. Once that imperative has been met—family and community really do have the action—then an elaborate web of expectations, rewards, and punishments evolves over time. Together, that web leads to norms of good behavior that support families and communities in performing their functions. When the government says it will take some of the trouble out of doing the things that families and communities evolved to do, it inevitably takes some of the action away from families and communities. The web frays, and eventually disintegrates.
“When a company comes up with an idea, it’s a messy process. There’s no aha moment,” Bezos said. Reducing Amazon’s history to a simple narrative, he worried, could give the impression of clarity rather than the real thing.
and yet... there's a lot of clarity here. lots of business-y ideas: cannibalize yourself before someone else does, two pizza teams, communication is a sign of dysfunction, long time horizon, rapid iteration, strive to be a platform, a missionary mission/low margins drive a growth flywheel.
but whatever, that stuff is ultimately for dads on planes. the character study/portrait of Bezos is the main event here, and it's genuinely fascinating. it also also feels like it's just phase 1, when you consider how amazon - a book company! - runs the backbone for a pretty fair chunk of the modern web
“Let’s give them credit,” Schmidt says. “The book guys got computer science, they figured out the analytics, and they built something significant.”
and Bezos is shooting rockets to the moon in Texas.
if there's a weakness here it's that Stone never digs too deeply into Bezos's politics or worldview - we see Amazon red in tooth and claw doing the creative destruction thing, dreaming up box-packing robots and clawing at the soft underbelly of the traditional publishing industry, but to what end? space? hard to say, but it is apparently going to be enormous.
side note - there's definitely a how-did-we-get-here reflection on the financialization of everything/history of D. E. Shaw & Co. (among the first on the scene hiring rocket scientists to do algorithmic trading) to be written, and I bet it would be fascinating. (less)
Larger than life characters and a utterly outlandish premise that seems as though it came from an alternate universe.
The idea was to import hippopota
...moreLarger than life characters and a utterly outlandish premise that seems as though it came from an alternate universe.
The idea was to import hippopotamuses from Africa, set them in the swamplands along the Gulf Coast, and raise them for food. The idea was to turn America into a nation of hippo ranchers.
Not sure how many tricks Atavist has up their sleeves but there's definitely more than one screenplay in the lives of Burnham and Duquesne.
At one point, [Duquesne] was shipped all the way to a prison in Lisbon. But he escaped easily, first finding the time to seduce his jailer’s daughter. He then made his way to England, claimed to be a Boer defector, enlisted as a British soldier, hitched a ride back to the front in Africa, and took off on his own again.
n.b he hangs onto his British uniform to go behind enemy lines and knock off some officers. The whole thing sounds like a lost Bond movie plot.
There are more prison escapes, a fairly improbable third act with a Nazi spy ring, and more Zelig-like appearances by Burnham across the American frontier -- American Hippopotamus has the beating heart of any number of those 'True Stories for Boys' (Davy Crockett, etc), and that breathless tone is both the strength and ultimate weakness of American Hippo.
As good as the Burnham story is, he was, a soldier of fortune in a brutal and ugly conquest of Rhodesia. It's more than a little jarring - there's a whole academic discipline that thinks about latent colonial/imperial attitudes in literature, and here you have a guy that was straight up murdering and pillaging villages for Cecil Rhodes and it doesn't ever really get addressed. (less)
I love Klosterman; this is a mega-dose of Klosterman, weird and digressive, full of rhetorical epicycles that intersect at strange angles but ultimat...moreI love Klosterman; this is a mega-dose of Klosterman, weird and digressive, full of rhetorical epicycles that intersect at strange angles but ultimately resolve into something resembling a coherent, if curiously intricate, viewpoint.
Klosterman is actually perfect suited for a kindle; his weird asides create distinctive word salad when collected on a highlight page.
It creates someone like Kim Dotcom, a man who’s essentially an IT guy for the entire plane.
Red Hot Chili Peppers): They seemed like all the idiots at my college who were constantly starting terrible bands and failing organic chemistry, except these idiots were famous and never wore shirts.
Within any group conflict, my loyalties inevitably rest with whichever person is most obviously wrong.
Klosterman's take on anything is always genuinely interesting; he tends to fixate on some weird nugget that doesn't fit an existing storyline, chewing it over until order has been restored. It's not hollow contrarianism, a la Slate; it's Klosterman, a true "weirdness raconteur"* for our time.
the Hitler stuff in here needed to go, and the dark, self-doubting close was largely uncomfortable to read, but reading Klosterman is all about the journey, anyway - the sotto voce asides, never the concluding remarks.
Totally straightforward, extensively researched, workmanlike (in the best sense of the term) biography of Wallace. Max's project appears to be a factu...moreTotally straightforward, extensively researched, workmanlike (in the best sense of the term) biography of Wallace. Max's project appears to be a factual/chronological recap of things that happened in DFW's life. If you already have a dog in the DFW legacy/interpretation fight it will apparently provide plenty of fodder for outrage! of the warmed-for-too-long variety, but there's a lot here for semi-professional DFW appreciators (of which I identify) previously familiar with only the broad outlines of Wallace's life.
Max's authorial voice is unobtrusive; excerpts from Wallace's own letters are abundant. He seems to have envisioned his role mainly as an adept curator - no grand theories/musings about the source of David's personality/voice are extended, and Wallace's words are often allowed to simply speak for themselves. This approach seems wise for an author a step removed from Wallace's immediate network - an understated retelling is probably the only safe approach for a first survey of DFW's maximalist life/body of work.
The thrust and structure of the biography comes from DFW's writing. Wallace's outlook and depression is a constant companion, but, at least in this telling, manifests itself mainly through the prism of DFW's struggles with the creative process. Untangling the inner life of a writer sometimes famously tripped up by self-reference is no easy feat, but Max's retelling comes across as fair-minded, if ultimately sympathetic. DFW's brilliant mind is apparent throughout; his uncommon dedication to his students shines through; his conflicted, but often entirely callous treatment of women in his orbit is duly recorded.
Ultimately, I walked away from Every Love Story is a Ghost Story with a profound sense of sadness. Reading Max's biography over the course of a few days brought Wallace's presence into the background hum of everyday life; the world is a sadder place without him.(less)
straight-up gorgeous prose; if you asked me "which chapter from the sixth extinction would be appropriate for my kent state communications class" (not...morestraight-up gorgeous prose; if you asked me "which chapter from the sixth extinction would be appropriate for my kent state communications class" (not saying just saying) the answer would be "any of them; just grab one at random that has a picture you like" (most inexplicable photo: the dressed-up neandertal in a suit in ch. 12) ok actually the Great Auk chapter--I'm still a little bummed out by the devastation wrought on those poor little dudes
kind of weird, then, that a book so beautifully executed would fall down in the defending-a-clear-thesis department. not to say that sixth extinction doesn't have one (there have been five major extinction events in the history of the planet; there's a sixth in the works, and the cause is people), more that the facts presented is long on contextual anecdote and short on evidence that golden frogs/great auks/Sumatran rhinos net out to an extinction event that matches numbers 1-5. in fact, Kolbert leaves us plenty of reason to think that a more accurate title might be A Really Bad Extinction That Could Make the Planet Uninhabitable For People (but is probably only second-rate on planetary timescales)
¨'...in a geological context' Climate change alone 'is unlikely to generate a mass extinction as large as one of the Big Five'...However, there's a ¨high likelihood that climate change on its own could generate a level of extinction on par with, or exceeding, the slightly 'lesser' extinction events' of the past¨
at some level, that's just quibbling; after all, Sixth Extinction still registers as a 4-star effort on the ALM rubric, and if we're arguing about really bad extinction vs world-historic extinction the implications are basically the same. emotionally arresting, memorable storytelling - if Elizabeth Kolbert isn't on your New Yorker Mt. Rushmore already with Grann, Wright, Packer and the rest, Sixth Extinction will make you re-evaluate.(less)
very good. insightful explication of the Russian educational system + a portrait of a exceptionally singular mind.
writing a biography with no access...morevery good. insightful explication of the Russian educational system + a portrait of a exceptionally singular mind.
writing a biography with no access to its subject is a difficult endeavor - one that Giessen handles with grace. there's a suggestion in some of the reviews below that the book is hostile in its treatment of Perelman, but I don't think anything could be further from the truth. Perelman is a difficult figure, possessed of a certain hostility toward the outside world. Gessen takes the principles and worldview behind this rejection seriously, replacing the media caricature of 'reclusive super genius' with something far more nuanced. the background and temperament that made him uniquely suited to tackle Poincare are the same beliefs that caused him to opt out of the hoopla and ceremony around the Fields and the Clay prize. Gessen's thesis is that you can't separate the two, and it is convincingly argued.
five stars for the portrayal of the mathematical community and its workings; -1 stars for the actual treatment of the Poincaré conjecture.(less)
This more my fault than Hewitz's; is it fair to criticize a book for 'reading like a long blog post' when the front cover asserts the author's bona fi...moreThis more my fault than Hewitz's; is it fair to criticize a book for 'reading like a long blog post' when the front cover asserts the author's bona fides as a blogger? In my defense the blurbs had an endorsement from Charles Mann (this ruins his perfect track record).
If futurism as a genre is intellectually suspect, well, you can imagine that a futurism lit review is *real* problematic. Some pretty interesting climate science nuggets in here, though.(less)