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The Numerati

3.42  ·  Rating details ·  1,383 ratings  ·  237 reviews
An urgent look at how a global math elite is predicting and altering our behavior -- at work, at the mall, and in bed

Every day we produce loads of data about ourselves simply by living in the modern world: we click web pages, flip channels, drive through automatic toll booths, shop with credit cards, and make cell phone calls. Now, in one of the greatest undert
Hardcover, 244 pages
Published August 12th 2008 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2008)
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Average rating 3.42  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,383 ratings  ·  237 reviews

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Sep 09, 2015 rated it liked it
I was expecting a book about the people who are exploiting "big data". I expected to hear about the people who analyze the huge data sets that are proliferating through our society. There is a little bit of that, but mostly I read about the technology itself, and the myriad of ways in which it is being used in all facets of life. Very interesting, but the title is misleading.

The problem is that the author is a journalist, and he writes the book like a memoir of some of his interviews. He m
Oct 19, 2008 rated it liked it
well. i thought this would be the next malcolm gladwell, steven levitt masterpiece, but instead it's a book that has a catchy title/cover and even a great premise, but the author (Stephen Baker) fails to deliver much new information about how 'the world is watching our every move.' could've condensed the entire book to a magazine article.
Oct 09, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is a book that has not aged well, which is not surprising since the purpose was to be timely, but there are points in these pages that reveal just how shallow Baker's understanding of this topic is. This lack of depth is especially regretted since the particular moment he was writing in was a remarkable period. The 2000's were a decade of radical changes in approaches to data mining and modeling, largely coming out of incredible leaps in processing speed and capability. Inventive algorithms ...more
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Journalist Stephen L. Baker wrote this forward-thinking book nearly 10 years ago, connecting math to computer assessments of the population and describing the results. While the history is good, the current analysis and future predictions are a ways off.

The authors math seems up to the challenge, but he underestimates the power and storage of computers and overestimates the cleverness of algorithmic methods. The result is chapters on topics which seem very dated. The writing style is anec
Jimmy Ele
Aug 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Math Intelligentsia dubbed the Numerati by Stephen Baker are modeling us humans in almost every aspect of our humanity. The book is divided into different chapters: Introduction, Worker, Shopper, Blogger, Terrorist, Lover, and Conclusion. A very interesting read that delves into the different groups of people and corporations that benefit from such information we readily give away with just a few clicks on the computer, and/or our cell phone usage among other things. The most interesting cha ...more
Mar 08, 2009 rated it liked it
I was disapointed with this book. It's a full-length book about the use of statistical methods and data mining to model people... but there is no discussion at all of those statistical methods or data mining techniques. It's full of talk about the data that's collected, and the predictions that are or could potentially be made, but the middle bit, the way that analysis actually happens is simply not addressed.

Now, I understand that other people are not as interested in statistics as
Dec 20, 2008 rated it liked it
I think I would have liked this book if the author had given more specifics. Yes, I am sure we all know by now that we are being tracked. Computers are powerful enough to sift through massive amounts of data and their results will become more and more useful as time goes on. I am about to tackle a related book called Click, which I may find more interesting!
David Wake
Dec 21, 2008 rated it liked it
Very interesting raw information - disturbing, I guess you'd say. But a little disappointing on the analysis side. Maybe the purpose of this kind of book is simply to scare you by listing all the kinds of things that you do that aren't private anymore, but I was sort of hoping to get more of a 'what should we make of this' kind of take as well.
Nov 11, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book was a very difficult read. The content and reading level was not the challenging part; it was the boring content. The author, Steven Baker, writes in a way that makes the fascinating topic unbearable. The book is about how mathematicians use our information to make a profile on us. He writes in a repetitive way that over explains and gives too much detail about the topic. He gave too much informations that way unnecessary. It was very hard to keep reading the book.
Oct 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Its perhaps to early to be writing this, seeing how I just finished the book less than a minute ago, but there was a sentence I read in Baker's conclusion that I felt summed up the whole book (or at least what I felt to be the most important). That sentence being: "This becomes true only because we let ourselves believe it." This sentence pertains to our feelings about the "Numerati" and what it is they are doing. Our feelings on invasion of privacy and the fear of what the information they gath ...more
Ben Babcock
I agree with those reviewers who found this book somewhat less awesome than they initially anticipated. Coming from a math background, and as surrounded by technology as I am, I think that the book would have had more of an impact with me if I knew less about these issues already. And that's why I'm giving it such a high rating: it does a good job educating, and I like that in a book.

Stephen Baker's tone is conversational and analytical as he takes you through successive chapters tha
Aug 03, 2011 added it
Interesting overview of how information is being sorted, used and manipulated in the digital era and the directions that people are going to explore the possibilities. Author is somewhat optimistic about the ends to which this information will be put, while glossing over some of the bigger problems and challenges that are presented with this. Though he does provide a good example of one researcher that has already run into a 'Nobel' issue with his data manipulation technology.

As stat
Dec 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I’ve been fascinated by marketing and consumer trends since reading Why We Buy by Paco Underhill several years ago. After reading The Numerati, I’m blown away by what data mining companies are doing everyday with those little bits of information we consumers leave behind every time we use our debit cards, cell phones, computers and other electronic devices.

Baker begins by showing us how much we rely on our computers and Google; even though we know we are being tracked. He tells us, “Even if you
Jan 31, 2011 rated it it was ok
Title is a clever neologism for people who engage in data mining to serve some pragmatic goal (e.g., Karl Rove micro-targeting likely-persuadable Republican voters to go to the polls; Amazon figuring out what you might like to read from what you have ordered previously; correlating your profile with that of another customer with whom you might like to go out........).

Underlying process is kind of interesting but the book itself is too long and repetitive, and it was a littl
Aug 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, math
It's impossible for me to review this without making comparisons to a very similar book I recently read: Super Crunchers by Ian Ayers.

This book was written by a liberal arts major/business writer and reads like it. That isn't a negative aspect necessarily, but if Super Crunchers (written by an economist who crunches numbers in his career) barely skimmed the math behind data mining, than The Numerati never touched it. Again, that isn't a negative, per se. It actually might be a positi
Prem Balakrishnan
For a nonfiction book this book was suprisingly interesting. This book talks about The Numerati or "the data crunchers" of our day and age, which would be the mathematicians, computer scientists, bankers, investers, software engineers. As a person that is very analytical, I found this book interesting to read. It goes through and describes how these people's jobs are used to figure out various things about their indirect consumers. For example, in the telemarketing industry computer scientists c ...more
Jul 12, 2011 rated it liked it
This book is a fascinating insight into what our future is going to be. We have to forget about privacy, keeping secrets or being on our own. We are constantly watched, observed, analyzed and manipulated. Everything about us is part of various databases, accessed by different agencies with different agendas. We supply the data ourselves by using Internet, keeping blogs, being on Social Networks, going to the doctor, library, even the grocery shop. We are profiled, our next step is predicted and ...more
Nathaniel Brooks
May 06, 2009 rated it it was ok
An interesting look at the emerging importance of data-mining in virtually every sphere of our economy and public life, but definitely an outsider's look. Many of the insights that Baker portrays as shocking will come as yesterday's news to anyone who a) leads anything approaching a wired life and b) has ever troubled to think for a minute about all the free services, rewards programs, etc. available to the savvy consumer... or even wondered briefly about how the now-ubiquitous "recommendation e ...more
Feb 27, 2009 rated it did not like it
This book is rather Friedman-esque, and I mean that in the worst possible way. Baker had a germ of a thesis (and a rather obvious thesis, in my opinion), and then proceeded to work himself into a froth over it and produce 200+ pages in which he restates it over and over with increasingly strained analogies. Worse yet, the most interesting questions in this field - questions about things like changing expectations of privacy, identity, and the ways in which targeting might itself change behavior ...more
May 14, 2010 rated it it was ok
I wouldn't necessarily call this a bad book, but it was a disappointing one for me. It provided a survey of some of the applications of data mining in modern culture, but failed to provide any information about the mathematics - while I agree with Baker that not everyone needs to become one of the Numerati, it wouldn't hurt to give readers a few basic concepts - and gave only a cursory examination of the ethical issues involved in this kind of research. I was looking for a book that I could reco ...more
Sep 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who is interested in behavioral analytics
I'll post a more complete review as a blog article. But I can say that I loved the authors approach and deep dive into the people and organizations that are crunching very large databases to find behavioral patterns... of you and I!
Aug 07, 2011 rated it liked it
Nothing earth-shattering here regarding how our data is collected and used, but it did make a career in such analysis seem more appealing. Also, it made me wonder when/if I'd start getting more penalized as a consumer for being thrifty.
Dec 18, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Magazine-like writing and shallow attack on subjects. Not bad, but not an engrosssing book. For the casual readers who'd like to know a bit (just a bit) about what math can be used for in the internetz.
Juan Arellano
Nov 24, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Although is from 2008, it is still a good read on subjects as privacy, big data and where computing technology is going.
Lance Agena
Feb 04, 2014 rated it it was ok
If you want to learn about data mining, Google it. This book adds no new insight that isn't already out in the mainstream media. Digital natives can leave it be.
Todd Martin
Aug 19, 2017 rated it liked it
On one of his spoken word disks Henry Rollins recounts a story about spam e-mail solicitations where he first receives enticements to join porn sites, when he fails to respond he then receives advertisements for gay porn, and again when no interest is shown he receives ads for Viagra. Coincidence? Nope, this is data analytics at work, trying to sift through electronic signals to determine the best products to market to people.

This is a smart strategy. Our digital fingerprints can say a lot abo
Thomson Kneeland
Jul 16, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: science
Many previous reviews are spot on regarding Mr Baker's lack of mathematical aptitude and understanding. In addition, Mr Baker is obviously biased towards the "cold callousness" of machine and data mining and its use in advertising, while completely disregarding the revolutions in science that are taking place. Machine learning and data mining is thoroughly transforming the world from creating new medicines, modelling quantum particles, the structure of the universe, weather modelling, and an inf ...more
Kelly Stuart
Apr 18, 2019 rated it liked it
I didn't really learn anything from this book. It seemed to state things that would have made people gasp in 1989 but are quite obvious in 2019. I got bored rather quickly and only read half of this book. Hope I didn't give up too soon. (Maybe I should have skipped to the end, but I assume it was just more pondering about the future and predictions that big data, AI and deep learning will be important skill sets. Yeah. And?)
Sep 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Although this book isn't particularly recent or up to date (in tech, just a few years can make a world of difference), it makes some good points about the mathematical modeling of people and our behavior. Given that Baker does not have a technical background, he's the perfect author for this topic. He's able to interview and meet with members of the Numerati (data gurus) and present it accessible language.
May 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gives insight to the naive

Thesis book gives a multifaceted view of the changes coming from artificial intelligence and machine language, which have their basis in these techniques, though this book focuses mostly on the knowledge generation component of AI and ML. I'd say it was worth the read, and now I'm hungry for more, which is a sign of a good read.
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Stephen Baker is an American journalist. In 2008, he wrote The Numerati, a book about the Big Data economy. Until 2009 he worked for covered technology for BusinessWeek. In November, he left to go freelance and finish his second book, Final Jeopardy. His first novel, The Boost, is published
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“Now, according to Business Week, 94 percent of U.S. corporations ask for electronic resumes. They use software to sift through them, picking out a selection of "finalists" for human managers to consider. What does the software look for? That's what we have to figure out. Some pick out certain words-MBA, Harvard, Excel, fluent Mandarin. Others look for more sophisticated combinations. Plenty of consultants are on call to sell us inside tips. The point is that when we want to be found, whether we're looking for money or love, we must make ourselves intelligible to machines. We need good page rank. We must fit ourselves to algorithms.” 1 likes
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