RaveThe OregonianNicholas Smith’s Kicks...is a lively, engaging cultural history of a uniquely functional yet fetishized object—commodity footwear and consumer durable but also personal style statement, athletic talisman and coveted object of desire. Smith’s tale teems with freebooting DIY tinkerers, traverses the sociocultural trend lines of our time and runs smack dab through Portland ... Kicks will appeal to more than devout sneakerheads ... It’s a work of synthesis rather than substantial original reporting, but Smith is a skilled curator. He situates sneakers at the intersection of celebrity culture, the personal fitness movement, even globalization (describing the black eye Nike sustained in the 1990s following revelations about conditions in the Asian factories that then fabricated its sneakers) ... \'History is full of the outsized effects of seemingly minor events,\' writes Smith. His history of sneakers is replete with them.
Laurie Gwen Shapiro
PanThe Los Angeles TimesThe Stowaway has the makings of a high-concept true story for the ages … Shapiro narrates this period piece with gusto. But pushed beyond an elevator pitch, The Stowaway’s high concept stalls … All of which begs the question of whether The Stowaway isn’t a book that would have made a great magazine article. In pursuit of the blockbuster narrative nonfiction grail, it comes across as inflated. Like a photographic miniature blown up to poster size and tricked out in Instagram hues, its definition blurs; you lose yourself in the pixels.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleVirtual reality, or VR, is the 'stage magic' of technology, observes Jaron Lanier in his new professional memoir, Dawn of the New Everything — the multiplication of technical effects to transport the beholder from the everyday to a simulacrum of another reality ...spirits us back to a time when a plurality of ideas about what the Internet could be were still in play. Thus, it traces the provenance of the organizing principles of the Web we live with today ...an account of the making of a digital humanist ... Baggy, unkempt and idiosyncratic as its author, it pulses with kaleidoscopic insight, recondite science and deeply felt opinions — a rejoinder to singularity-struck 'digital supremacist[s]' ... By limning his own history in virtual reality, Lanier offers a vision for an enhanced reality for everyone.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleTroublemakers takes as its frame a sped-up high-tech version of early Medici-era Florence, 'thirty-five miles and seven years' into which were telescoped many of the greatest hits of the information economy ...offers a corrective to the regnant great man theory of technological progress of which the virtuosic Mr. Jobs is exhibit A. In narrating these innovations, Berlin shows the village that brought them forth ... It’s easy, with hindsight, to deride, but Berlin, project historian for Stanford’s Silicon Valley Archives, brings out the sociocultural forces that hobbled the Alto... For all his prickly iconoclasm, Jobs had a reverence for Silicon Valley’s history and lore, Berlin observes. Troublemakers shows the indebtedness of Apple and other 'self-made' success stories to these forces.
MixedThe Millions...there’s his composure on the page: a finely-milled crystalline prose that never announces itself yet pins its subjects with felicitous precision; the apotheosis of the New Yorker’s signature patrician style ...McPhee is not so brash a writer, his catharsis slower to pay out ...Draft No. 4 is a different kind of book — a writing manual-cum-professional memoir. This invites a certain windy raconteurship. There are intriguing glimpses of the operation behind The New Yorker’s exquisitely modulated prose — a kind of virtual organization...is, no less, a period piece; a treasury of keen insights from a painstaking craftsman and a capsule of the charmed status of an elite practitioner during what looks today like a golden era of magazine journalism replete with extended parlays with editors, protracted fact-checking triangulation, and two weeks on a picnic table.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesAvoiding portentousness, Fountain, a veteran New York Times science reporter, paints a deft portrait of life in these remote outposts ... Fountain isn’t a showy writer, but there’s a fever-dream quality to his account of those five minutes that 'made the earth ring like a bell' that captures the hallucinogenic oddness of a world off-kilter, out-of-joint, suddenly uncooperative ... Interleaving snapshots of a lost world, the primal power of nature and high science, The Great Quake is an outstanding work of nonfiction. It’s also a reminder that the original agent of creative destruction resides not in the corporate boardroom, ivory tower or artist’s salon but beneath our feet.
PositiveThe Portland OregonianThe Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet, by New York Times science writer Henry Fountain, documents the 1964 Alaska earthquake ... Fountain atmospherically depicts life in the frontier communities, Native Alaskan fishing village Chenega and port town Valdez, that were razed when 'the earth (rang) like a bell' for five minutes... He captures the sheer sensory oddness of an earthquake ...narrative is haunted by images that live long in the mind, not least a crimson tide of dead red snapper flushed from the roiling depths ... But The Great Quake is also detective story... Enter the U.S. Geological Survey's George Plafker ... he supplies elusive empirical validation of the theory of plate tectonics – that the Earth is fissured with grinding plates – described by Fountain as 'the unifying theory for all the geological features and processes that humans have wondered about for centuries.'
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleLashinsky invests Kalanick with social significance — emblematic of a cultural moment as the nerdy but dudely exemplar of San Francisco’s 'brogrammer' culture ... Lashinsky punts on trying to 'bridge the —hole-versus-misunderstood divide' on Kalanick. It seems beside the point. It’s hardly a surprise that the CEO of the most aggressive startup on the block isn’t an emotional empath. Maybe there’s a certain integrity to owning this. Either that or, just as likely, he has the hide of a rhino. More relevant though is the breadth and narrowness of Uber’s vision — expansive yet reductive; boiling down everything in its path to a 'hackable problem,' locked into an endless quest to maximize utility and, inviting that bad behavior seen in its corporate headquarters, fixated on its own growth.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleBilton opens American Kingpin collecting string, introducing the characters. This doesn’t come without some slack while the reader waits for the action to spool up...But halfway through, with everyone in place and the tick-tock under way toward its denouement, the narrative, retailed in brisk Vonnegut-length chapters, becomes tight and riveting.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleMuch of the thrill in reading about their short but vertiginous histories lies in the glimpse this offers into how, in a crucible of competition and regulatory skirmishes, they assumed their current contours as harbingers of 'a new trust economy,' as Stone puts it ... Stone, an editor at Bloomberg, is best known as the author of the terrific The Everything Store (2013), about Amazon. The Upstarts is a penetrating study marked by the same thorough reporting that distinguished this earlier work. No figure is too obscure in the annals of Uber and Airbnb for Stone to track down, including the poignant stories of sundry entrepreneurs who converged on similar ideas but, amid various missteps, failed to find traction.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleProminent among Lewis’ considerable achievements in The Undoing Project is the presentation of abstruse but important ideas in a compulsively readable braided narrative pulsing with the singular spirit of the duo behind them.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe Attention Merchants is a book of our time, touching on an emerging strain of anxiety about the information age that goes beyond gripes about digital distraction or information overload ... In its synthesis of such ostensibly disparate threads, The Attention Merchants is a bracing intellectual tour de force. But Wu writes with more brio than your average policy maven/academic.
David Foster Wallace
RaveThe MillionsA collection of discretely commissioned pieces for assorted magazines marshalled over 15 years might feel disjointed. But String Theory is remarkable for its cohesiveness and seamlessness with the preoccupations of Wallace’s fiction ... Wallace played the game with all of his person. The same intellectually questing, sensorily hungry spirit is present in his writing about it. The result is a terrific book about a human activity and life outside the lines that trammel it.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesA onetime travel writer, Roach excels in capturing science’s 'foreign country' aspect — roaming as a stranger in a strange land among its weird norms and novelties, grand monomaniacal passions, practitioners’ idiosyncrasies and obscure lexicon ... She writes exquisitely about the excruciating while also displaying supreme attunement to the oddness of the subculture she’s writing about. In Grunt, she’s concerned with the military’s 'quiet, esoteric battles with less considered adversaries: exhaustion, shock, bacteria, panic, ducks' ... Yet Grunt is not without its languors. A chapter on the history of shark repellent development is thin gruel. At other times, some of the machinery behind Roach’s writing becomes creakily apparent ... Grunt is at times tremendously entertaining, wildly informative and vividly written, but as an examination of humans at war it feels small-bore.