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
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
365 TV Free Activities —Marie
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
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)
The Starflight Handbook by
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
Entertaining and mind warping. Worth
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
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
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
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.
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
The Clustered World —Michael J.
One nation, 62 cultures. The cultural
pigeonholing enterprise is getting tiresome. Not recommended.
The Riddle of Amish Culture by
304p (H) 1989
Not much depth into Amish lives, but
at least riddle is not a festival of mawkishness. Good thing this sticks mostly
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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 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
Faust: Part One —Martin
Greenberg’s work is a splendid
translation of Goethe’s original.
Faust: Part One —David Luke
Another fine translation.
The Best American Short Stories
These stories stink. Time for a
new editor. Earlier collections in this series were better. Where is Junot Diaz?
High-tech Heretic by Clifford
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
This is loaded with conclusions and not much for premises. Worth browsing.
—Book reviews by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 24, 2009