PositiveThe New RepublicFor a twentysomething memoir, Uncanny Valley is remarkably chaste. Although there are hints of San Francisco’s legendary perversions, our otherwise curious narrator never dabbles ... Throughout the book, she declines to use the proper names of companies and brands. This works to defamiliarize tech monopolies that we take for granted (Google is \'a search-engine giant down in Mountain View,\' Facebook \'the social network everyone hated\'), but it sometimes goes too far ... Instead of limping back to the literary world full-time after the snack thing, Wiener returned as an author and a West Coast contributing writer for The New Yorker, cartoon headshot sketch and all ... These details belong to a story that Uncanny Valley doesn’t quite want to tell. If selling out is \'our generation’s premier aspiration,\' why does she play down her success? ... But without the frisson of shame, Uncanny Valley would be a completely different book, and not nearly as good. This story isn’t about the history of the region or labor in the tech industry; it’s a self-conscious account of how it feels to climb up near the top of the barrel, where you occasionally lose sight of what it’s like for the crabs down below.
PanBookforumHow...do we understand today’s winners? What do they deserve, and how? In The Meritocracy Trap, Yale Law professor Daniel Markovits offers his assessment: Super-skilled workers have remade the economy in their image, leaving themselves overworked and unhappy while rendering middle-class Americans underworked and unhappy ... Most of the book’s policy conclusions are reasonable...But The Meritocracy Trap gets tripped up in its own premises. Markovits jams together a range of critiques into an argument that probably seemed honest, empirical, and heterodox to the author at the time. Instead, the framework is original in a bad way, full of holes and contradictory to its core. A graduate of Yale, the London School of Economics, Oxford, and Yale again, Markovits turns in research so lazy, prose so laborious, and thinking so shallow as to refute the very idea of merit in the anglo-phone system of higher education. If this is what they reward at Yale, then I don’t know what they’re measuring over there—it’s certainly not skill or hard work ... The disagreement isn’t really about the numbers, it’s about ideology: Markovits doesn’t think we give the rich enough credit for their work. It’s hard to suss exactly what he’s saying, because the book is framed as an attack on the meritocracy, but when he goes out of his way to claim that noted scammer Mark Zuckerberg earned his fortune, aggressively misclassifying the Facebook founder’s wealth as labor income, the author tips his hand ... What Markovits is unwilling and/or unable to understand is that value has a dual form. Under capitalism, innovation and the demand for corresponding new kinds of labor don’t emerge according to human needs, they develop according to potential profit, that is to say, potential labor exploitation. The rich are better—better at making money off of other people. Markovits teaches their lawyers, and it shows. In his acknowledgments for The Meritocracy Trap he thanks not one, not two, but sixty-six research assistants, for a book that comes in at under three hundred pages. Nice work if you can get it.
PanBookforum... a manual for the dad side, a work of rousing reassurance for open-minded men who are nonetheless sick of losing political debates to teenagers whose meals they buy ... The book is not a work of scholarly history or political theory, it’s a rhetorical survey, more akin to the volumes of right-wing punditry that used to populate the best-seller list ... To his credit, Gopnik doesn’t copy and paste his magazine pieces, though he seems to treat his own work as a primary source ... there’s no actual analysis of socialism’s electoral prospects, and it all reads as thinly veiled psychological projection. Rather than analyze this historical moment with any specificity, Gopnik defaults to archetypes of parental moderation and childish radicalism that are older than Turgenev. It’s lazy, skill-less, and embarrassing ... as an exercise, dunking on liberals is unfulfilling: Odds are not many people will reach for this book except to be reassured, and it does a good job of that ... Any socialist teen with access to Wikipedia could rip it apart. I can’t imagine the man convinced his daughter.
MixedThe OutlineUnsurprisingly, given her background, much of Small Animals feels like fictionalization. There’s a lot of dialogue, including reconstructed third-hand scenes. The book is short, and the seams where occurrences have been stitched into narratives show through. Like other books that emerge from viral articles, Small Animals includes the story of its publication and the public’s overwhelming response. I wish writers would leave these parts out; although a huge online reaction is a good reason for an agent or a publisher to bring a project into existence, I don’t find that information adds much to the actual books ... Small Animals is best when Brooks leaves her own (compelling, albeit article-length) story behind and starts talking with child development experts and advocates about the social changes in which she’s been unwillingly tucked.
PositiveThe NationOne strength of Kessler’s book is that she is not interested in the efficiencies created by this new economy so much as the conditions suffered by those employed in it ... Though many of Kessler’s subjects are not the average gig-industry employee, they can be portals to particular insights ... [one] story helps the reader to see just where the efficiency of gig labor comes from: Workers develop their own ways to speed up the completion of their tasks, even with no guidance ... Gig workers, as Kessler reminds us, do not compose a large segment of the world’s labor force, but neither did industrial proletarians when Marx and Engels started paying special attention to them. This category of workers who do more and get less will continue to grow in importance for the 21st-century economy. At this point it’s clear that this is mostly bad for most people.
MixedThe New RepublicMerriman doesn’t have much interest in moralizing about their violence; he plays up the theatricality of it all instead. No doubt other historians have been more blasé about larger body counts, but the author’s excitement and levity makes the whole project a bit unseemly. Murdering people who just happen to be in the way—as the Gang did—is made only slightly more charming with an olde tyme color palette ... Ballad is an action story that would fit in just fine on any number of cable networks, but as a historical event it lacks a certain weight. Merriman doesn’t draw many contemporary parallels, and the best he can come up with in terms of a lesson is that class divisions cause crime. Fair enough, but hardly revelatory. At the end of the day, historical action entertainment is the other side of the illegalist coin, where the violence is once again a means and an end.
RaveThe New RepublicIf the book is any indication of the kind of instruction students at Princeton receive, they’re a lucky bunch indeed. McPhee’s knowledge of, experience with, and command over narrative nonfiction structure is masterful ... Draft No. 4 contains a carefully balanced ratio of directly instructive writing advice, behind-the-scenes views on McPhee’s greatest hits, and war stories from the golden age of post-WWII American magazine publishing. This is near the bullseye of what you’d hope for from an octogenarian doyen, and it’s a pleasure to read. Any writer or editor could learn something from McPhee, as many famous and successful ones already have.
PositiveThe New RepublicIt’s a list that could come out of a parenting guide from almost anywhere on the ideological spectrum, and honestly, it’s not a terrible one. Sasse is extremely corny from time to time, but that seems like more of a feature than a bug. He doesn’t pose traditionalism as a new counter-culture because Sasse doesn’t have any interest in being part of a counter-culture. And yet, his fidelity to timeless values feels almost refreshing in a political moment when all the compasses seem to be spinning ... Sasse goes far out of his way to be uncontroversial and extend his appeal across the board. Policy disagreements are reduced to asides, and he spends roughly zero time complaining about Obama ... I’d agree that there is value to midwestern communalist agricultural practices, but to focus on that would require Sasse to consider the social relations of production instead of individual virtue. Easier to say that kids should work harder, like he did, weeding the soybean fields and detasseling corn.
PositiveThe New Republic...the kind of book you might think already exists. It’s a straightforward biography of one of the Age of Enlightenment’s Great Men ... A book like Girard’s might have been near the top of Louverture’s list. For a man born a slave to star in his own biography centuries later, not as a slave, but as a leader and a statesman is an accomplishment without match. He was, as Girard says, 'a man of his time,' a phrase that excuses the half-measures of great men. Perhaps the most accurate thing to say is that Toussaint Louverture was merely a Great Man.
PositiveThe Village VoiceNone of this would work at all if Greif weren't funny, which he is. Not so much when he attempts a wry turn of phrase, but in the overall character he creates in himself — and it is a character ... There is something clownish about trying to live according to existential principles in a world made of actually existing conflicts. But clowns serve many of the same purposes as philosophers, and sometimes they're hard to tell apart. I think Greif, for one, is more Larry David than Slavoj Zizek.
PositiveThe New RepublicMiéville is at his best when he’s imagining things like the politics behind the rise of the diabolical Nazi church. The book hums when he’s managing a handful of huge variables at the same time ... As a formulaic romp, The Last Days of New Paris is fun and smart. While other authors tack on their characters’ political ideologies, Miéville makes them matter. But by manifesting the concepts, he picks up a greater burden. Sometimes the ideas threaten to burst the seams on the form.
MixedThe New RepublicToobin’s explanation is more sophisticated: Patricia Hearst’s kidnapping was one in a series of situations of which she made the best. She is no more to blame for her SLA actions than for her membership in the ruling class as a Hearst—that is to say, kind of, but not really ... [Toobin] fails to locate the SLA in historical relation to similar groups ... In the long-term, American society traded Patricia Hearst a life outside prison for that version of the story, and for her silence on the rest. With Toobin’s book, the deal still holds.
Timothy Garton Ash
PanThe New RepublicOxford professor Timothy Garton Ash’s new book Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World is a rare thing: a worthwhile contribution to a debate without two developed sides. Ash does an excellent job laying out the theoretical and practical bases for the western liberal positions on free speech. What he may lack in innovation, he makes up for with breadth and detail...[But} it isn’t good enough for Ash to imagine speech operating the way he hopes it will; he leaves undone the work of evaluating what has actually happened over time, and to what groups.