Quick Looks Various Works
Clearly Outstanding: Making Each Day Count in Your Classroom by Gary D. Borich
222p (H) 1993
Borich follows three teachers for five years and tells their compelling stories. He examines how teachers grow and find purposes, while handling change and complexity. He makes questionable assumptions about five-year-olds and how we should follow their lead. Playfulness is splendid, but this book seems to endorse being a reflexive inner and outer child—do all you desire. The world does not need any more adult children. It has more than enough, thank you. Worth a glance.
Best of the Journal of Irreproducible Results
Especially hilarious are observations from a frog dissection.
Drunken Goldfish: And Other Irrelevant Scientific Research by William Hairston
248pp (H) 1988
Weird science. Covers important scientific issues such as why uneducated worms appear to acquire knowledge by eating educated worms, why plants empathize with shrimps as the shrimp are being boiled, and the ability of dogs to track Siamese twins. Fans of the old Journal of Irreproducible Results and The Annals of Improbable Research will love this one. Contains lewd material.
Cycles of Fire: Stars, Galaxies and the Wonder of Deep Space by William K. Hartmann and Ron Miller.
Includes the most fascinating art I have seen in a science book, speculative paintings of views from others planets and solar systems, more fun than a trip to a planetarium. Tolerable text. Worth looking.
365 TV Free Activities —Marie Winn
I can think of at least 365 better activities off the top of my head.
1001 Sex Secrets Every Man Should Know —Chris Allen
Sex aphorisms by anonymous women more eager to reveal their ages than their first names. If only the tiresome Nietzsche had spent his time writing these aphorisms. I think you would agree that “Being kissed there makes me squirm,” belongs in more philosophy texts than “Woman was God’s second mistake.” If anyone needs a book of 1001 techniques, his problem isn’t technique.
1001 Sex Secrets Every Woman Should Know —Chris Allen
You would be tempted to think that these would all say the same things, but that would be false.
Relentless Improvement: How Silicon Valley Innovation Strategies Can Work in Your Business —Christopher Meyer
I have major qualms with the concept of “Only the paranoid survive.” 182pp. (H) 1997
The Starflight Handbook by Eugene Mallove
Fascinating methods for interstellar travel: Nuclear propulsion, solar sails, and so on with speeds much higher than I expected. Little mention of price tags. Worth browsing.
The Science of Aliens by Clifford Pickover
Entertaining and mind warping. Worth browsing.
The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps by Marshall T. Savage
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams by Depok Chopra
Of bastard gods and bitch goddesses. This ought to be popular with readers of Comtemporary Perspectives on Religious Epistemology. Not recommended. 111p (H) 1995
The Next 500 Years: Life in the Coming Millennium by Adrian Berry
338p (H) 1996
The future of technology without the usual futuristic clichés found in movies. If the past is any guide, most of these will not happen. Worth Browsing.
The American Medical Association Family Medical Guide
Great guide with excellent flow charts. Recommended.
Probable Tomorrows: How Science and Technology Will transform Our Lives in the Next Twenty Years by Marvin Cetron and Owen Davies
298p (H) 1997
Intriguing opinions and hilarious probability estimates.
True Odds: How Risk Affects Your Everyday Life by James Walsh
402p (H) 1996
Danger Ahead: The Risks You Really Face on Life’s Highway by Larry Landan
Reality Check —Brad Wieners
Already badly dated. Reality check well-illustrates that predicting is not so easy, especially when Timothy Leary is doing the predicting. Worth browsing.
Living Dangerously: Navigating the Risks of Everyday Life by John F. Ross
Nine Lives: From Stripper to Schoolteacher: My Yearlong Odyssey in the Workplace by Lynn Snowden
Lynn Snowden is a brilliant writer who for some reason visits atrocious television shows and exchanges banter with dullards. Maybe Thomas E. Hill had Snowden in mind when he wrote about wasting talents. She has some fantastic lines: “Teachers need to develop an almost sociopathic ability to switch moods from encouragement to fierce reprimand.” Worth a look.
Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?: How Pessimism, Paranoia, and a Misguided Media Are Leading Us Toward Disaster by H. Aaron Cohl
160p (H) 1997
A collection of mini essays on fear mongering fads. Cohl takes on some easy to demolish targets. Covers scares such as the one created by imported grapes having traces of cyanide far less than ordinary lima beans, not to mention ordinary apple seeds. I heard of someone whose diet of non-stop apple juice led to cyanide poisoning. Covers, of course, the great cancer causing ability of electromagnetic fields. Everyone knows that electromagnetic fields from a wristwatch have enough force to do the sort of damage that gamma photons do. Yeah, right.
On more difficult issues, these puny arguments are far from adequate. Cohl doesn’t spend much time on important risks we should avoid or handle. He sometimes equates all small risks with unimportant risks regardless of their potentials for increasing harm. Worth browsing
The Clustered World —Michael J. Weiss
One nation, 62 cultures. The cultural pigeonholing enterprise is getting tiresome. Not recommended.
The Riddle of Amish Culture by Donald Kraybill
304p (H) 1989
Not much depth into Amish lives, but at least riddle is not a festival of mawkishness. Good thing this sticks mostly to
description. When this work gets prescriptive—as when it tries to weigh the benefit and harm between the Amish and others—it’s lost. If the argument were more careful and quantified, he might have found that the Amish benefit others much more than they cost them. Worth a glance.
The Road Ahead by William Gates III
Futurists predict that books will someday be glutted with advertisements. So much for the future. The Road Ahead is already a giant advertisement.
In the first edition Prophet Bill outlined a future filled with Microsoft products that will find out what our tastes are, then fill our lives with the things we find tasteful by special micro-delivery. As for information that does not coincide with tastes, oh well. As for information that might deserve the label good, double oh well. Months later a second edition of this work came out because the prophet had not foreseen the rise of the Internet.
You see, “There will be ‘two societies’ in the future: high-paid knowledge workers and low-paid service workers.” As for any society emphasizing moral character, triple oh well. The fact that these two societies might exist is no problem for Bill Gates.
But one form of inequality probably does interest him: Inequality of techno-ownership. One way to promote a techno-product is make sure inequalities in ownership exist. The public imperative then becomes eliminating the inequalities rather than asking whether the product is grossly overrated. Some things trouble Bill Gates, but the possibilities delivered by technologies are not among them. “‘The role of government,” however, “is a troubling open question.” Perhaps because government remains semi-democratic. Plutocrat power and populism are not troubling for Bill Gates.
An item in Harper’s Index noted that this book contained the phrase “you will” a god awful number of times.
“You will” is a great phrase for techno-utopians, and a subtle reminder of the reality behind techno-utopianism. A glowing one-page review of this work by Joseph Carey contained the phrase four times. Maybe Gates rubbed off on Carey in ways Carey had not noticed.
For all the wonderful future talk, the key to techno-success is providing easy, attractive remedies for boredom. Luckily for Mr. Gates one can make truck loads of money hawking a machine that fits human predispositions for distraction so well. Thanks to the stupidity of IBM he has the keys to an empire.
Gates also waxes on the economic benefits of PCs, but those benefits are improbable. We hear a barrage of rhetoric claiming the late 90s boom was due to computers. Research by Robert J. Gordon, however, suggests productivity gains from 1995 to 1999 were highest in durable goods--cars and furniture. Productivity in industries that heavily use computers stagnated or fell. Workers use computers for goofing around. Many tasks done with computers can be done at least as well with telephones and paper.
At least some monopolists in the past made unjust accumulations in industries that provided products or services of value. The new monopolist provides distractions and transfers riches that could have been put to better use elsewhere. However, in Mr. Gates defense he is a better philanthropist than the old robber barons. Not recommended. 332p (H) 1996
Coercion by Douglas Rushkoff
The title of this book should have been Manipulation or something similar, not Coercion. Coercion implies the threat or use of physical force. Bad behavior ought to be criticized not because its practitioners have been coerced into it. It ought to be criticized because it is not in the best interests of the practitioner or other individuals.
Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut by David Shenk
213p (H) 1998
Maybe I’m biased against this one, but most of this was already obvious: People propagandize. Pat Buchanan is rotten. I knew that.
Smog is similar to Mark Slouka’s techno-critique. Unfortunately, the punch and verve are missing, leaving a rather tepid set of prescriptions. The most helpful is put the TV in the closet and take it out only when you want to watch a specific show, though I wonder how many will quickly restore the TV to its previously prominent location. Getting rid of the TV may be the best environmental aid. Data Smog also implies that we should retreat from info rather than actively looking for more valuable info, and I want nothing to do with that.
Self-help Nation by Tom Tiede
This is a cutesy, medium-brow version of I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional, nothing too offensive and little that is not excruciatingly boring—Wendy Kaminer on milk. I made it through only a handful of pages. If you ridicule people for 200 pages, it helps if you have something more profound to say than they do or at least something humorous. Not recommended.
The Good Old Days—They Were Terrible —Otto L. Bettmann
Diseases, poverty, crime—a clear, nifty cure for nostalgia. Great job, Otto.
Design Paradigms: Case Histories of Error and Judgment in Engineering by Henry Petroski
Surprisingly intriquing. Includes several chapters on bridge failures.
Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy by James Fallows
296p (H) 1996
Not much new here, but Fallows does a decent job of putting this together. Notably, journalists are willing to let people die to get a story, or rather, maintain journalistic “ethics.” Apparently, journalism is also a euphemism for collecting small and biased samples. How do you get non-shallow citizens when the most educated and powerful people are shallow? Fallows does not provide many answers.
“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” by Richard Feynman
Feynman is a hedonist physicist—and a boring one at that. Hedonists should at least have amazing stories to tell, like being lost in a frozen wasteland and having to reattach the soles of your feet to your feet every day, then falling into a ice crevice and attempting to pull yourself out with a rope until your hands are worn to the bone, then surviving. Not recommended.
Seven Life Lessons of Chaos: Timeless Wisdom from the Science of Change
I should have known better than to browse any book having a cover blurb from Fritjof Capra. For the uninitiated, philosophical chaos theory is the theory that random hack philosophies really are interconnected. The cover looks as if Dominoes had a recall on regurgitated pepper and mushroom pizza.
Deadlines and Datelines by Dan Rather
Some might find this drivel breezy and enjoyable. I find it plodding and annoying. Not recommended.
America the Wise: The Longevity Revolution and the True Wealth of Nations by Theodore Roszak
The author once wrote a chapter on the true art of thinking. He wasn’t close then, he’s further away now. Roszak argues that wise old individuals will provide immense, and I mean immense, goods to society. Therefore, retirement programs do not need any fixing. He is badly mistaken. A few hours of arbitrary volunteer activity does not do a fraction of the good that labor force participation does. The overwhelming majority of moral goods come into existence though childrearing and labor force efforts. Exchanging work force efforts for token voluntary activities is a colossal loss of social goods. Apparently, “wisdom” is whatever makes some individuals feel good. If all the old individuals doing volunteer activities stopped tomorrow, hardly anyone would notice. If all the workers and child rearers stopped working tomorrow, there would be a quick end to civilization. While thinkers such as this are receive awards, thinkers such as Jerry Mashaw and Michael Graetz are ignored. It’s enough to make me scream.
Life without Father: Compelling New Evidence That Fatherhood and Marriage Are Indispensable for the Good of Children and Society by David Popenoe
288p (H) 1999
The male tie to families and communities depends on heavy social support that are easy to destroy. Combining biological and social claims, Popenoe argues for nuclear families, but not necessarily, what is commonly referred to as traditional families. He writes that the exclusive domestic and exclusive breadwinner roles caused problems. “Male groups became overly masculinized and the home overly feminized, with men fleeing and dreading the overly feminized physical and social environment of the home.. . [t]he less involved men are in childrearing, whether workaholism, macho activities or outright abandonment, the lower the status of women... [t]he more men engage in routine care, the more mothers participate in decision making and positions of authority. Societies without strong male role models and involved fathers, reject and dominate women more and create exclusionary all-male activities for prestige.” Some of this work contains bad nurture assumptions. Popenoe offers few prescriptions other than bucolic plague, solving problems by moving to the country.
Dumbing Down: Essays on the Strip Mining of American Culture by Katherine Washburn and John F. Thornton, editors
329p (H) 1996
Dumbing Down is the most entertaining collection of essays I have seen. No one does fun trivia like culture mongers. Ken Kalfus reflects on Captain Kirk watching the stars rush by on a big screen TV. He excoriates space stations and joyriders in the sky. Robert L. Park wonders whatever happened to “[b]etter things for better living through chemistry.” He writes, “It is as though beliefs are arranged on a shelf; everyone is expected to walk by and select one. It doesn’t matter which one, as long as you believe in something.” The Celestine prophecy? It won’t be on Kent Karroll’s shopping list. No fan of malling is Carole Rifkind. James B. Twitchell decides we would rather waste our attention than our money, though our behavior indicates we rarely hesitate to waste both. Armstrong Williams urges us to earn self-worth. Steven Goldberg frets about the fate of truth, but fails to clarify matters. Dumbing Down contains the usual petty complaints from culture mavens.
The Healing of America
More like the helling of America.
The Essential Communitarian Reader by Amitai Etzoni
More like The Communicatarian Reader. Blah, blah, blah and almost no macropolicy or well-reasoned solutions Compared to this work, trying to figure out how to pronounce Amitai Etzioni’s name is a major initiative.
319p (H) 1998
The Moral Animal by Robert Wright.
Here is more infotainment to wallow in. Even if everything in here were true, why should I care? I know individuals looking for biological excuses to feel better about nefarious behavior care about this, but this has almost nothing to tell me about everyday living.
by Cintra Wilson
Celebrities get more boring all the time. Most of them say things said millions of times. Admiration is only a wrong step away from self-debasement.
The Physics of Immortality by Frank J. Tipler
Entertaining speculations about the extreme future. Colonizing the universe, science and theology. The universe has been around long enough for super advanced civilizations to develop: If super-advanced aliens currently exist and wish to remain hidden, they are evil. If other moral, but not advanced life exists, then some dividing up should be done. If none exist, humans can call the entire universe home.
Cult of Information by Theodore Roszak
Roszak argues important distinctions should be made among wisdom, knowledge, and information. Information processing, what computers do, is far from wisdom. Wise individuals figure out how to solve important problems. They do not drown themselves in petty information.
Cult critizes theories that compare the human mind to computers. The human mind does not operate like a computer. John Searle has written more and better on this subject.
The hawkers of computers, Roszak writes, offer information as salvation. They allege that if you are not computer literate, you will be left behind.
The distinctions between valuable information and less valuable information, unfortunately, do not get proper treatment with this work. Cult makes inaccurate comments on various political issues. If anything, Roszak needs more information—accurate information. The final Chapter is decent. Worth a glance.
Life: The Movie —Neal Gabler
Snappy and smart, Life: The Movie overreaches on the life and art have become indistinguishable theme and under reaches in offering prescriptions, though the author admits as much. Everything has not become saturated with the techniques of entertainers. Gabler’s work starts fast but runs out of good ideas. Worth reading the first couple dozen pages.
Faust: Part One —Martin Greenberg
Greenberg’s work is a splendid translation of Goethe’s original.
Faust: Part One —David Luke
Another fine translation.
The Best American Short Stories 2000
These stories stink. Time for a new editor. Earlier collections in this series were better. Where is Junot Diaz?
High-tech Heretic by Clifford Stoll
Main ideas herein:
· Schools do not have a duty to provide television to students. Computers are like television. Schools, therefore, do not have a duty to provide computers.
· Most people get fired for poor work or communication skills, not lack of computer skills.
· Clicking on an icon solves computer problems. The rest of the world is more messy and complex. There are no icons to click on. Computers do not prepare people for the rest of the world.
· Vacuous electronic simulations have replaced science experiments.
This is loaded with conclusions and not much for premises. Worth browsing.
—Book reviews by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 24, 2009