MixedThe New York Times Book Review\"When something really captures his interest, Jonathan Franzen is an engaged and engaging reporter. Which is to say, two essays in his new collection, The End of the End of the Earth, truly expand one’s knowledge of the world ... That makes it more the shame that he usually opts for something much easier ... But if Franzen’s travel writing is unexceptional, it’s better than his political essays, which suffer from being under-thought and over-emoted, the chief feeling often being a kind of self-absorbed peevishness ... One reason Franzen wants to concentrate on immediate conservation tasks is that he’s more or less given up on fighting climate change ... As [Franzen] points out, individual action at this point will not amount to much; all the more reason for thought leaders like Franzen to join in building movements to prevent the worst outcomes. Bitching about those who are making the attempt seems a sad waste of precious time.\
Charles C. Mann
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIt’s an ambitious sort of book, one that, to be completely successful, requires two things. One is a command of sprawling detail, with the ability to see parallels among events across time and distance and to explain the complex with ease. The second is an analytical device that takes all those parts and molds them into something novel and useful. On the first count, Mann succeeds magnificently. William Vogt and (particularly) Norman Borlaug are brought to splendid, quirky life ... Mann’s storytelling skills are unmatched — the sprightly tempo with which this book unfolds, each question answered as it comes to mind, makes for pure pleasure reading. But you may find yourself troubled a little along the way by the analytical framework he’s imposed on the material, the division between the technologically minded Wizards and the limits-embracing Prophets. His distinction works pretty well when he applies it to food (GMOs vs. organics) and water (dams and desalination vs. drip irrigation) but it starts to break down when we reach climate and energy, perhaps the planet’s central problems.
PositiveThe Washington PostIf there was ever a moment when Americans might focus on drainage, this is it. But this fine volume (which expands on [Goodell's] reporting in Rolling Stone) concentrates on the slower and more relentless toll that water will take on our cities and our psyches in the years to come.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksSo far most of the virtues Sax has listed for the analog world are private and personal—the rush of creativity (or really the rush of the possibility of creativity) that comes with buying a Moleskine, the slightly smug sense that your record collection somehow makes you a curator of your musical life. He’s on even stronger ground, I think, when he takes up the question of connection to other human beings ... Board games are the clunky polar opposite of the shiny digital experience. But Sax demonstrates that even as the Web has risen and the revenue from video games comes to rival the profits from movies, there’s also been a striking renaissance of people pushing little figurines around the tops of tables ... The notion of imagination and human connection as analog virtues comes across most powerfully in Sax’s discussion of education ... Why should efficiency be the standard measure, and not pleasure? I defy you to read Sax’s book without wanting to buy a Moleskine, put an LP record on a turntable, or play a game of Scrabble with your friends. It’s true that he mostly ignores some of the deepest questions raised by the digital age: the obsolescence of human labor against the tide of automation; the endless, uncheckable spread of surveillance. But the small rebellions he chronicles help us understand the general shape of a threat that goes beyond Karl Marx and his nineteenth-century complaints about capitalism; it’s in our digital era that all that was solid really did melt into air.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksJane Mayer’s remarkable new book makes it abundantly clear that the Kochs, and the closely connected group of billionaires they’ve helped assemble, have spent thousands of times that much over the past few decades, and that in the process they’ve distorted American politics in devastating ways, impairing the chances that we’ll effectively respond to climate change, reducing voting rights in many states, paralyzing Congress, and radically ratcheting up inequality.